10 September, 2011
I ADMIRE Tan Sri Tony Fernandes. Honest, I do. Not for everything he does of course but what he has done to make air travel so wonderfully affordable to such a large cross section of people. No one can ever take that away from him.
Not many people gave him much chance of success 10 years ago when he set up AirAsia but when he tweaked the low-cost model with some help from people who had worked with Ryanair, the runaway low-cost airline success in UK, I felt he had a sound model.
The focus was obviously costs and advance bookings and payments with next to no flexibility to change flights. The advance bookings brought in cash even before the flight flew up to six months ahead. Rapid expansion ensured the cash rolled in.
And the rest was history. AirAsia became and continues to be one of the most successful low-cost airlines in the world and without a doubt the most successful in Asia.
But sometimes Tony I shall call him that in this column rather than the cumbersome Fernandes because everybody does can be quite exasperating and his logic, well, stretched a bit. Such may just be the case with aerobridges and AirAsia.
Malaysia Airports had announced two years ago that it was building a RM2bil, since increased to RM2.8bil, low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT). The price tag raised many eyebrows, considering that the main Kuala Lumpur International Airport was built from total scratch for under RM10bil and the current terminal built for a mere RM108mil.
There have been delays (that’s a story for another day) but what raised more eyebrows was that this new LCCT would not even have aerobridges, although provisions will be made for their future use. Why, especially since it will cost to make provisions for aerobridges?
According to Malaysia Airports, it deferred to the operations of the low-cost carriers, in this case AirAsia and AirAsia X which did not want to use aerobridges so as to more quickly turn around the aircraft and therefore fly more and reduce costs.
This is despite the fact acknowledged by Malaysia Airports that many airport operators around the world require the use of aerobridges for the sake of convenience and importantly safety.
One thing though is clear cost is not the direct issue with the use of aerobridges. Use of the aerobridge costs just RM85 per time. If you unload 180 passengers and load a like amount, that amounts to less than 25 sen a passenger, Malaysia Airports pointed out. But still it did not require that aerobridges be used. Why?
Malaysia Airports answers: “In the case of AirAsia, they had explained that their business model requires a quick turnaround time in order to increase aircraft utilisation. This would then allow them to operate additional sectors in a day and enable them to reduce cost and therefore offer lower fares.”
Fine. But could they still not have short turnaround times by using the aerobridges? Can’t the operations be tweaked and the airport designed so that they can? And how does AirAsia manage to turn around its aircraft so quickly in places and there are quite a few where they are required to use aerobridges?
And isn’t Malaysia Airports required to look at the safety and convenience of the passengers using its facilities? Does it not have an immense responsibility to the general public to ensure that where safety and convenience can be improved at reasonable cost, then it should?
I have had the pleasure of flying to many wonderful destinations via AirAsia and AirAsia X. I don’t mind their seats and their service at all, and even their food is not bad for an airline though Pak Nasser’s nasi lemak may have declined in quality over the years and does not look quite the same as on the menu card (I wonder whether there really is a Pak Nasser but that’s okay too).
But what I do not relish is the long walk (often) to and from the aircraft. Sometimes aircraft taxi deafeningly quite close by. At other times, service vehicles are moving directly across your path, occasionally with little supervision.
And try walking down from the aircraft in pouring rain with umbrella in hand, luggage in the other and a driving wind threatening to take you off with your umbrella. That’s a pretty hazardous, tricky operation requiring all your aerobatic skills.
It is not only inconvenient but dangerous if you are not careful at all times and if you have children with you. Nobody not AirAsia, not Malaysia Airports, not the Cabinet and the Government and not the flying public want an accident. We should act before that happens.
Aerobridges will remove totally the chances of any accident caused by passengers being on the tarmac besides the considerable amount of convenience and comfort that it will provide.
And here’s a suggestion to reduce any financial burden to AirAsia. I think I speak for a lot of customers when I say we do not mind paying RM2 for the aerobridge. AirAsia can build this into its fares without anyone so much as murmuring anything about it.
What difference would it make? Considerable to AirAsia. If it and its sister airline AirAsia X fly 20 million passengers into and out of the LCCT, the difference to the bottom line is RM35mil (subtract 25 sen in costs to get RM1.75 net per passenger and multiply by the number of passengers) in pure incremental profit.
That should easily offset any setback AirAsia will face from an increase in the turnaround time.
Common Tony, sit down with Malaysia Airports and work it out such that your turnaround time will be little affected. I am sure you can do it! In fact even as the Cabinet is deciding on the question of using the aerobridges, upstage them by announcing a deal with Malaysia Airports that you are going to.
Surely the Cabinet has better things to do than to intervene in such matters. And think of how much happier your customers will be and how many more of them will fly with you after you give them aerobridges.
Managing editor P Gunasegaram believes that low cost does not have to mean low standards.
Source: The Star, 10 September 2011.