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4 May 2010

AirAsia looks to start operations from new terminal

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The eight-year dispute between AirAsia Bhd and Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) over several issues, including the design and facilities for the new permanent low-cost carrier terminal (PLCCT), has finally been resolved but not without the Prime Minister’s intervention. The carrier hopes to begin operations from the new terminal by March 2012, Malaysian business daily the StarBiz reported.

This is a major milestone for the aviation industry and means the better cooperation between the two parties could help turn KL International Airport (KLIA) into a more vibrant airport, one that is able to challenge both Singapore’s Changi and Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi.

“Under this new partnership, both AirAsia and MAHB are committed to working closely to help boost the country’s tourism revenue and the larger economy, thus placing the needs of the nation over lesser parochial interests,’’ AirAsia said in a statement.

Even the slight delay in the completion of the new PLCCT doesn’t matter to AirAsia now, as it is content to move anytime between September 2011 and March 2012. The original timeline for the completion of the PLCCT was the third quarter of 2011.

The impact of the delay will be minimal as MAHB will undertake some upgrading works to the existing LCCT to ensure the carrier is able to stay on a little longer than expected to cater to its growing traffic volumes.

The existing LCCT can cater to 15 million passengers, while the new terminal, located near the KLIA, will be able to handle 30 million passengers. MAHB plans to raise RM2bil to RM2.5bil to develop the PLCCT, for which clearing works have started.

AirAsia group chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes caught many by surprise when he said at a press conference yesterday that the long-standing dispute with MAHB had been resolved and that the airline was now able to chart its future 10-year growth path.

As part of its expansion strategy, AirAsia will add Maldives to its route map over the next few months and reinstate flights to Hatyai, Palembang, Balik Papan because it is getting additional parking bays for its aircraft at the LCCT.

“Over the last eight years, there have been many battles but the big battle has ended and we are happy that all the issues have been resolved.

“We both compromised for the benefit of the country. We want to thank the PM for his intervention and Tan Sri Bashir Ahmad (MAHB managing director) made a big impact in trying to resolve our issues,’’ Fernandes said.

Asked if AirAsia had paid its dues to MAHB, Fernandes said: “We have been paying them regularly.’’

The dispute surrounds operational issues to design and facilities. MAHB has agreed to improve signages at the LCCT; add 1,333 carparks to bring the total to 2,707; realign the roads for better traffic flow; provide covered pedestrian walkways; and provide eight more A320 parking bays.

As for the new terminal, AirAsia will get 76 aircraft parking bays; its headquarters will be located at the terminal building; there will be support zones for its engineering, cargo and inflight complexs; and its inputs are incorporated for the semi-automatic baggage handling system and the design and allocation for check-in counters.

Asked if aerobridges were an option, Fernandes said: “We will look into it if it does not burn into our cost as it is all about dollars and cents.’’

Whatever the cost, he does not expect “fares to go up and it is not in our DNA to raise fares.’’

Fernandes also could not say if there will be a rail link. And although there is a plan to link the ERL from KLIA to the new airport, he could not confirm this. But he encourages KTMB to link the airport as then there will be a rail link for those living in the East Coast.


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