LANGKAWI - It's Visit Malaysia Year, and one of the country's biggest and best known tourist attractions is closed to the public. The world-famous Langkawi Sky Bridge has been closed for almost 20 months due to a delay in getting funds and foreign consultants to conduct maintenance work.
This has upset many tourists, both local and foreign, who had hoped to walk the world's scariest suspension bridge hanging 700m above sea-level from the peak of Gunung Mat Chinchang.
The curved bridge, part of an RM80mil cable car project, is due to reopen only late this year.
Friends of Langkawi Geopark or FLAG said the many foreign tourists were especially frustrated because they had travelled far to see and experience "an engineering marvel".
Its deputy president Pishol Ishak added: "Being on the ground, we know very well what they are saying because they are always complaining to us."
TripAdvisor - the world's most popular and largest travel community website - listed what it dubbed Langkawi's "Crazy Curves" number one among the top five world's scariest bridges. It described the 125m-long structure as "an engineering marvel that is an acrophobe's nightmare".
The Sky Bridge - which had been attracting an average of 400,000 visitors a year - has been featured in numerous foreign travel magazines and websites.
The bridge achieved further fame when Bollywood heart-throb Shah Rukh Khan had a fighting scene on it in the 2006 movie, Don: The Chase Begins Again.
It is learnt that the 10-year-old bridge has been closed since July 2012, a month before the Langkawi Development Authority bought over Panorama Langkawi Sdn Bhd or PLSB - which maintains the Sky Bridge and operates the cable car (also known as Sky Cab) - from Syarikat Prasarana Negara Berhad.
PLSB chief operating officer Mohd Ali Makkit said that ensuring customers' safety is the top priority even if it means sitting out VMY 2014.
"We have to follow the standard operating procedure set by the original designers and architects, where the Sky Bridge has to be closed for maintenance after six years," Ali told Sunday Star.
PLSB had to apply for funding from the Federal Government.
"It is not easy to get a huge allocation for the maintenance and it usually takes a year before we can get funds. We requested for the allocation immediately after we took over. It has since been approved and work is expected to start this April," he said.
The delay, he explained, was also partly caused by the need to employ the original contractors as well as the architects and design consultants from Switzerland to do a survey.
"The work will be divided into two phases, with the first phase being the rectification of the bridge's main structures at a cost of more than RM10mil. The cost also includes replacing and repairing the steel structures for the cable car's top station," Ali said.
"We will also replace the bridge's middle span with a 6m glass walkway to enable visitors to look down on the valley from where they stand," he added.
In the second phase, RM8mil will be spent to build an inclinator to bring visitors up to the Sky Bridge.