6 December 2011
By EILEEN NG, Associated Press
Budget carrier AirAsia on Tuesday urged Malaysia’s government to ensure that massive cost overruns in a new airport for low-cost airlines would not lead to additional charges for airlines and travelers.
Malaysia’s airport operator last week said the cost of the new budget airport has nearly doubled to 3.9 billion ringgit ($1.2 billion) and that it would open only by April 2013. This marked a second time it has been delayed, from the original launch date in September this year.
AirAsia commercial director Jasmine Lee slammed the airport operator for poor planning, saying the delay has forced AirAsia – the main user of the terminal – to put its Malaysian expansion plan on hold and defer delivery of new aircraft.
AirAsia is worried the airport cost escalation will lead to higher rental, surcharges and other bills for the airline, and higher taxes for passengers, she said. Malaysia last month raised the departure tax on international flights by about 30 percent.
"This is typical of bad planning. AirAsia is the victim here. We are not treated like the No. 1 customer for the airport," Lee told The Associated Press."We want some sort of guarantee that the cost overruns will not translate into additional charges for AirAsia and its customers."
Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad said it decided to expand the new low-cost airport to accommodate 45 million people a year, from 30 million previously, based on AirAsia’s projection that passenger traffic could hit 45 million by 2020. The airport will have a pedestrian skybridge, the first in Asia that will link the two terminal buildings for international and domestic arrivals.
It said it decided to install aerobridges and a fully automated baggage system amenities that AirAsia had said were a waste of money. AirAsia has said it would not use the aerobridges, which connect the terminal to an aircraft and allow for easy boarding and disembarking by passengers.
Lee said AirAsia was surprised that Malaysia Airports made unilateral decisions to expand the airport capacity, to implement a fully automated baggage system instead of a semi-automated version requested by AirAsia and to install aerobridges.
She said AirAsia had in 2008 warned the operator that costs would soar because the airport site was unsuitable and heavy soil work was required. The skybridge alone is estimated to cost nearly 1 billion ringgit ($319 million), not inclusive of a spa, premium lounges and other amenities, she said.
Lee said AirAsia proposed an airport design to Malaysia Airports two years ago that would have cost just 700 million ringgit ($223 million) but it was rejected.
"We don’t need a five-star airport. We want a basic, comfortable airport, with a practical design," she added.
AirAsia has said a bigger terminal is crucial to its survival with passengers expected to reach 30 million and its fleet to grow to 184 planes by 2013. The existing budget airport can only accommodate 15 million people and has insufficient airplane parking bays.
The new airport, dubbed as klia2, is located just two kilometers west of the main airport. Malaysia hopes the new budget airport will bolster the country’s international airport as a significant air hub in the region rivaling Singapore’s Changi Airport and Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.