Bursting at the seams
27 September, 2008
LONG queues at immigration counters and waiting for more than an hour to collect a checked-in luggage are a common angst for budget airline passengers who arrive at the low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) in Sepang.
Barely three years old and the LCCT is already operating at its full capacity ?a bursting at the seams, some may define ?a as a result of the (unforeseen) tremendous growth of budget airline passengers, particularly that of AirAsia group.
Besides the AirAsia group, the LCCT also services the Philippine's Cebu Pacific Airways and Singapore's Tiger Airways.
For the interim comfort of budget airline passengers, Malaysia Airport Holdings Bhd (MAHB) has embarked on an extension plan for LCCT. The extension will increase the annual passenger capacity from the current 10 million to 15 million upon completion in March 2009.
According to MAHB senior general manager of operation services Datuk Azmi Murad, the proposal for a new LCCT has been submitted to the government for approval but its location has yet to be determined.
"We are still waiting for the government to give us the green light for the project, hence we are not able to confirm when the project will be implemented and completed," Azmi says.
He, however, confirms that the proposed terminal comes with a capacity for 30 million passengers per year, with scope for expansion should the need arise.
But AirAsia X Sdn Bhd CEO Azran Osman-Rani feels that MAHB's expansion plans are too conservative compared to the growth of AirAsia group.
"Failure to anticipate the growth of our passenger numbers will result in severe capacity shortage again in the short future," he says.
AirAsia group expects its total passengers to exceed 15 million in 2010 and 28 million by 2014.
While the overcrowded situation in LCCT is severe, KLIA, despite its state-of-the-art facilities and award-winning status, is found to be lagging behind its regional rivals, namely Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport and Singapore's Changi Airport.
The trend is partly attributable to national carrier MAS' capacity trimming, while other regional airlines such as the Emirates, SIA, Etihad and Cathay Pacific continue to expand their operations.
In addition, many international airlines that have left KLIA since the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis, such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, ANA and Air France, have not returned but have continued to fly to Suvarnabhumi Airport and Changi Airport.
According to the Airports Council International, there are currently 105 airlines that fly to Bangkok's airport, more than 70 airlines to Singapore's Changi and less than 50 to KLIA.
Passenger traffic recorded in 2003 at Suvarnabhumi Airport was 30.2 million, Changi Airport was 24.7 million and KLIA was 17.5 million.
In 2007, the numbers rose, with Suvarnabhumi Airport recording a passenger traffic of 41.2 million; Changi Airport 36.7 million and KLIA 26.5 million. Passenger and cargo traffic is a good gauge of an airport's strength, which is strongly correlated to a country's economic performance because airport is the heartbeat of a country's trade and tourism industries.
The group founder and AirAsia CEO Datuk Tony Fernandes feels that the AirAsia group's low-cost business model and growing flight frequencies and destinations are able to draw more passengers to KL hub, which will ultimately boost Malaysia's economy.
"We have a dream to bring in passengers from all over the world to our Kuala Lumpur hub, and we believe we are on the right path to achieving this dream because of what we can offer our passengers.
"The unfortunate thing is, our dream is hampered because we do not have a good airport infrastructure to support our plan to make it bigger for Malaysia's industry," he says.
Therefore, he expresses hope for the airport management sector to be liberalised and open to competition for the benefit of the aviation industry as a whole.
In Britain, for instance, the Competition Commission recently issued a provisional report recommending the British Airport Authority (BAA) to sell three of the seven airports under its management.
The recommendation is to address competition problems that arise from the monopolistic behaviour of BAA in managing its airports, such as its lack of responsiveness to the needs of its airline customers and lack of initiative in capacity planning.
Airports in Malaysia are managed under the monopoly of MAHB, a government-linked company.
This article is a verbatim copy of the original article from The Star.