Ending the draggy MAHB-AirAsia spat

There will not be a monopoly or exclusive right given to any airline to operate an airport, says Loke

by RAHIMI YUNUS / pic by TMR filepix

The Malaysian Aviation Commision (Mavcom) could be the best mediator to resolve the draggy and unwelcomed spat between Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) and AirAsia Group Bhd.

Industry insiders believed that the commission could maintain a neutral standpoint between the airport operator and the low-cost carrier (LCC).

The two companies, which have been trading barbs for the last few years, should allow Mavcom to conduct a study on the related issues.

“Let Mavcom do an independent study and give recommendations for both parties to achieve a potential win-win result,” an industry source told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

The spat between MAHB and AirAsia is expected to take a temporary break after a meeting was held between MAHB acting group CEO Raja Azmi Raja Nazuddin, AirAsia executive chairman Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, AirAsia group CEO Tan Sri Dr Tony Fernandes, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook last Friday.

AirAsia has been complaining about the quality and service standards at some of the airports managed by MAHB.

The low-cost airline had always wanted to own its own terminal — carrier and airport operator — all in one package. The company has pointed its guns on MAHB to achieve its ambitions.

Fernandes in his tweets said: “More low-cost terminals are coming and MAHB now understands what we can do.”

“Let’s hope the war is finally over and we both win together, MAHB and AirAsia, and of course the main winners are Malaysians,” he tweeted, with a photo of everyone smiling

in the series of tweets. Recently, MAHB and Air Asia had been giving statements on issues including passenger growth in Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA), AirAsia’s move from KKIA Terminal 2 (T2) to T1 and airport incentives.

The bad blood between the two companies is nothing new. AirAsia had been making its displeasure over local airports in public. MAHB had been more restrained in its approach over the allegations.

Fernandes, who recently met Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, had claimed that AirAsia was forced to move to T1 in 2015 and the airline has experienced a “flat growth” since.

On July 23, MAHB denied the statements and said T2 was meant to serve as a temporary terminal catering to LCCs until a bigger and better facility at T1 was completed.

It noted that with the exception of AirAsia Group, which only moved to the terminal in December 2015, all other LCCs had moved to T1 in 2010.

On passenger growth, MAHB said AirAsia’s passenger traffic growth at T2 hovered between 2% and 3% in 2014 and 2015.

It jumped 5% in 2016, 11% in 2017 and 15% in the first half of this year at T1.

According to MAHB, the trend was not unique to AirAsia alone as other airlines with international routes also registered an encouraging growth of 39% year-on-year (YoY) in 2016 and 43% YoY in 2017.

A day later, MAHB said AirAsia enjoyed RM376 million incentives up until 2017 through a series of airport incentive programmes.

Fernandes responded that the incentives were given to all airlines and not just to AirAsia.

He also said there was a lack of support for developing lowcost travel and billions have lost to the Malaysian economy.

AirAsia Malaysia CEO Riad Asmat also jumped into debate, claiming MAHB had suggested that the negative growth at KKIA between 2014 and 2015 was the key reason for AirAsia’s move to T1.

Riad also urged MAHB to stop cherry-picking data to suit its agenda and instead work together with the airline.

“It was clear that the airline company has chosen to take our statement out of context. Their statement had said that we implied that the negative growth was the reason for AirAsia’s move to T1,” MAHB said.

MAHB reiterated that its intention was to refute AirAsia’s claim that they have been experiencing flat growth since they moved to T1.

Fernandes was recently quoted as saying that the airline was back in talks with the relevant agencies, as well as the Sabah state government, to revive T2 as a dedicated LCC terminal, and willing to bear the refurbishing cost.

Meanwhile, Loke earlier said the government was looking for a new financing model to fund the expansion of airports in the country and there would not be a monopoly or exclusive right given to any airline to operate an airport.

“There are a lot of issues at hand that need to be resolved. MAHB has its business interest as well as the airlines. Whatever the government wants to do should be in the best interest of the rakyat,” MIDF Research analyst Danial Razak told TMR.