AirAsia has stopped its KLIA2 fee, but that should not sweep the past ‘illegal collection’ under the carpet
By P PREM KUMAR / Pic By TMR File
Imagine if you are renting a residential property, and besides paying for the house, the landlord also charges you for the use of the road and street lights going towards your house.
This was the case when AirAsia Group Bhd was collecting RM3 from every departing passenger out of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2), and it happened despite authorities knowing that such charge was unfair on the consumers.
It is quite a surprise that AirAsia — a company led by Tan Sri Dr Tony Fernandes (picture) who has been fighting for all Malaysians to enjoy a lower passenger service charge (PSC) — plans to make the flying public liable in a dispute that the airline is having with airport operator Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB).
Since yesterday, the airline has stopped collecting the RM3 KLIA2 fee, but that should not sweep the “illegal collection”, which had been going on for the last 54 months, under the carpet.
Let’s give the issue another perspective. In 2017 alone, KLIA2 handled 30.27 million passengers. Given a conservative assumption that AirAsia brings in 90% of the traffic, that would be about 27.24 million passengers.
If half of them were departing passengers, that means AirAsia could have collected more than RM40 million from the KLIA2 fee last year alone, and AirAsia had been collecting the KLIA2 fee since May 2014.
If you do the math, AirAsia had made a bundle, a very large one, from the RM3 fee; and we are also wondering why — despite being unauthorised — no one, including the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom), had ever asked the no-frills airline to stop collecting it.
Only during an interview with The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) last November, did Mavcom executive chairman Dr Nungsari Ahmad Radhi — when pressed on the matter — note that the second phase of the Malaysian Aviation Consumer Protection Code 2016 (MACPC) would make the collection illegal.
But why only now, four years after Malaysians have spent their “teh tarik and roti canai” money on something they were not even supposed to pay?
Known as a marketing magnate and vocal personality, Fernandes had never deliberated much about the KLIA2 fee, especially on whether it was collected by the airline or on behalf of MAHB.
To the regular flyers, they would assume it was an airport development fee — similar to charges imposed in Changi, Singapore.
Confused, I had to seek clarification in a “KLIA2 fee” discussion topic in AirAsia’s web help centre that the low-cost airline had listed under its frequently asked questions.
To a question “What is the KLIA2 fee?”, the airline had answered, “The KLIA2 fee is charged by AirAsia for mandatory KLIA2 facilities imposed by the airport operator to the airline, such as aerobridges and the SITA check-in/boarding systems.”
Not stopping there, to another question, “How is the KLIA2 fee different from the PSC?”, AirAsia responded: “The KLIA2 fee is a fee imposed by the airport operator to the airline for the use of KLIA2 facilities. These facilities are the use of aerobridges and SITA check-in/boarding systems. However, the PSC is also a charge imposed by the airport operator, but it is for the passengers’ use of the airport which currently stands RM9/passenger for domestic flights and RM32/passenger for international flights (old figures).”
Now, which is which? Was the KLIA2 fee charged by AirAsia or MAHB?
My question then and now, is only one — in the other main cities that AirAsia is operating, where all passengers board and disembark using only aerobridges, why hasn’t the airline made any protests?
Is AirAsia only protesting in its native land just because the airline brings in almost 60% of tourists into the country every year?
Talking about airports, I agree with Fernandes that we don’t need the humongous size of KLIA2, including the fancy shopping mall attached to the terminal building. It is, however, undeniable that MAHB is keeping up with the airport construction trend in the region.
Airport operators globally, particularly in Asean, have dedicated airports or terminals for budget carriers. That does not deny the fact that some of the terminals are as large and commercial-driven as KLIA2.
AirAsia’s complaints over the efficiency and defects in KLIA2 is a completely different debate, although Mavcom’s new quality of service index would force airport operators to keep up with the quality level.
TMR had previously broke the news on the legality of the RM3 KLIA2 fee. Knowing that the second phase of the MACPC is coming into force — and perhaps advised to act quickly — Fernandes went on social media platforms to announce that AirAsia will stop collecting the RM3.
Nevertheless, he had made the announcement in his own people- caring methodology. Again, to a man in the street, Fernandes’ announcement would have sounded his thoughtfulness to stop a yet-another unjustified charge by the “cruel” airport operator.
The aviation tycoon had already pledged not to collect the PSC for MAHB from departing passengers using KLIA2. The reason was one — KLIA2 does not fit its operating model.
But what happened to the collection thus far? Is a refund or public apology on your cards, Fernandes? I should hope so.