9 August 2019
By AFIQ AZIZ / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL
WHEN Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad mooted the idea of constructing a brand new international airport further away from the main areas in the Klang Valley in 1993, quite a number of parties flipped.
Not many could really see his vision and the rationale behind the proposal.
While those who were politically inclined were quick to judge (and condemn) the idea, the more enterprising quarters saw it as an opportunity to initiate projects — particularly property and real estate — that could complement the massive undertaking.
When it was revealed that Sepang was the selected location, prices of land in the district and its surrounding areas also skyrocketed as interest in various related projects continued to mount.
In 1998, when the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) opened its doors — just in time to usher in participants and spectators alike to the 16th Commonwealth Games held in the country for the first time — it was considered as among the most distinguished structures in the world.
First-time visitors could not help but admire the architectural wonders designed by the late Kisho Kurokawa, who was among the most highly acclaimed builders in the world.
The airport has since been regarded as a world-class international airport and it has won numerous awards from various international organisations such as UK-based consultancy Skytrax as well as the International Airport Association.
Kurokawa also worked alongside Akitek Jururancang (M) Sdn Bhd and Pacific Consultants International to realise the project’s true potential.
The concept was also rather astounding. The Main Terminal building was designed as an ecological infrastructure by adopting the “airport in the forest, forest in the airport” ideals.
The roof was designed akin to the aerial view of a sprawling oil palm plantation, mimicking its surroundings of over 100 sq km of former agricultural land.
An entire section within the airport was also transplanted with plants and trees from the jungle in Sepang.
These days, travellers in the Satellite building can enjoy a walk at what is now known as the KLIA Jungle Boardwalk. It is still a popular attraction, complete with a small man-made waterfall and various types of trees encased in circular glass, just about 10m away from the KLIA Aerotrain door that connects both the Main Terminal and the satellite building.
In 2004, six years after it first began its operations, KLIA was recognised by Green Globe 21 — the worldwide benchmarking and certification programme which facilitates sustainable travel and tourism for consumers, companies and communities.
It was the first and only airport in the world to have attained the Green Globe certification and went on to receive the same award for five consecutive years.
As envisioned by Dr Mahathir, the airport was built to cater to 25 million travellers. It served only 14.5 million passengers in 2001. Last year, the number ballooned to over 28 million, passing the intended maximum capacity.
With the ever increasing traffic, more opportunities are abound within the airport itself, as well as the areas around it. The expansion also includes non-aeronautical businesses, which currently make up 50% of the total business in the facility.
It was reported that KLIA’s operator, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB), is in the middle of reformatting the layout of its airports in the country to increase the footprint of retail space with the aim to monetise it and improve the group’s revenue.
The layout reset is expected to be carried out in stages, starting with the Langkawi International Airport, followed by KLIA, klia2, Penang International Airport, Kota Kinabalu International Airport and Kuching International Airport.
The series of refurbishments to increase the retail profile of the five international gateways are expected to increase the average spending per pax by fourfold, from the current RM35 to about RM140 in five years.
In total, MAHB reaps in RM4.85 billion of revenue last year, higher than the RM4.65 billion in 2017, with its non-aeronautical shares slightly dropping by 1%.
With the upcoming revamp in retail space at KLIA, the initiative is expected to help MAHB offer more variety at all zones — the Main Terminal building, contact piers area, and also at the satellite building.
As of now, there are around 170 outlets surrounding the whole airport. Of the total, about 65 of the retailers are doing business at the Main Terminal area, while more than 70 shops are located at the satellite building.
Sources close to the matter told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) that MAHB is expected to add more than 50 outlets at all the three designated areas.
Overall, the airport operator has also projected a boost from its non-aeronautical to aeronautical revenue with a 60:40 ratio.
“More established and branded brands are expected to come into this building and it will definitely enhance the total customer’s experience at the airport. It’s not only for travellers, but also for visitors who are not flying from KLIA,” the source said.
Apart from the more than 60 outlets — excluding small kiosks — the Main Terminal now also houses 216 check-in counters and more than 200 toilet facilities.
On average, KLIA currently handles 30,000 departing passengers a day, while receiving 50,000 daily arrivals. It serves more than 60 airlines operating at the terminal, which could be translated into 4,000 arriving flights a week.
Together with klia2, the combined area has three runways at approximately 4km in length each, to serve both terminals.
In total, it can handle up to 70 million passengers, connecting over 100 destinations worldwide.
The KLIA Main Terminal customer’s experience has also been improved. For instance, the parking system could detect your vehicle registration number if you park there.
Customers can simply key in their car number at the provided display panel to spot their vehicles when they leave the terminal.
In terms of the passenger handling system, the airport operator is expected to implement a passenger reconciliation system (PRS) at both terminals by the end of the year.
MAHB said in a statement yesterday that the PRS will increase efficiency by allowing real-time validation of passenger information at screening checkpoints. The PRS includes the open-gate concept at boarding lounges at klia2.
MAHB said the airport and aircraft security system will also be enhanced, as baggage belon- ging to no-show passengers can be quickly identified and offloaded from the aircraft.
The effort is expected to improve airlines’ on-time performance and turnaround time.
“Implementing the PRS will enable passengers to experience a more seamless journey when passing through the various airport checkpoints.
“The enhanced security aspects from the PRS will also allow MAHB to implement the ‘open gate’ concept at all boarding lounges at the the klia2 terminal,” MAHB COO Datuk Mohd Shukrie Mohd Salleh said in the statement.
He said currently, the boarding lounges are confined within glass walls for security reasons.
“We want to tear down the glass walls to create more space for passengers to sit comfortably, while waiting for their departure,” he added.
These days, passengers who arrive early at the gates need to wait for airlines staff to open the gates in order to access the ample seating provided at the boarding lounges.
MAHB admitted this is one of the recurring “pain points” highlighted by passengers in their feedback to the airport operator.
“As we aspire to create happy airport guests by becoming a caring host, many of our improvement initiatives are implemented based on passenger feedback.
“Together with AirAsia Group Bhd, we have started to pilot this ‘open gate’ concept at one of the domestic boarding lounges, and passengers have been appreciative of this initiative,” Mohd Shukrie said.
On top of that, TMR has also reported that MAHB would come up with the “KUL Master Plan” soon and elaborate on the probability to fully connect both airports, which are currently not interlining at the airside zone, causing low interconnecting flights for the KUL destination.
Under the code name KUL (Kuala Lumpur), KLIA and klia2 have become the 12th-busiest hub in Asia and 23rd in the world, serving an annual 59 million passengers.