AirAsia sues MAHB for RM400m in counterclaims

By FARA AISYAH / Pic By AFP

AirAsia Group is suing Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) for more than RM400 million in what the airline group claimed as losses due to disruptions caused by the airport operator’s failure to provide the required services at KLIA2.

The counterclaims by AirAsia had been widely expected after MAHB filed a legal suit against the frills-free carrier over the higher passenger service charge (PSC) which the airline has resisted from collecting.

The airline, founded by aviation tycoon Tan Sri Dr Tony Fernandes, listed a ruptured fuel line, service disruptions, runaway closure, aircraft towing requirements, fuel costs, delays, taxiing, flight cancellations and various other claimed flaws as the basis for the counterclaims by AirAsia and AirAsia X Bhd.

The company, in a statement yesterday, also maintained that travellers flying from KLIA2 should not be made to pay the same airport tax as those departing from KLIA due to inferior services at KLIA2.

AirAsia and AirAsia X also took MAHB to task for being heavy handed in filing the suit, referring to its unit Malaysia Airports (Sepang) Sdn Bhd’s summons of RM36.12 million last month. The suit was related to the PSC, which both airlines have not been collecting from travelling passengers.

Both AirAsia and AirAsia X have also applied to strike out MAHB’s suit on the grounds that it is misconceived and premature as MAHB has not complied with the statutory provisions for dispute resolution within the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) Act 2015.

Sections 74 to 78 of the Mavcom Act state that both MAHB and airline operators have a statutory obligation to mediate any dispute regarding any matter under the Act, and legal action may only be used as a last resort after mediation and dispute resolution efforts have failed.

“MAHB does not provide the same level of service at KLIA2, where AirAsia operates from, compared to KLIA, which is a terminal for full- service carriers,” AirAsia CEO Riad Asmat and AirAsia X CEO Benyamin Ismail said in a statement yesterday.

“It is for this reason that we have refused to collect the higher airport tax imposed by MAHB on non-Asean internat ional passengers departing from KLIA2,” they added.

“We maintain that the dispute over airport taxes, which is at the core of MAHB’s suit, is specifically a matter subject to Mavcom’s purview for mediation and dispute resolution.

MAHB is well aware of this and prior to filing the suit, had engaged AirAsia in both oral discussions and written correspondence.

“However, MAHB has chosen to improperly circumvent the Mavcom Act by filing the suit,” Riad and Benyamin said.

Airport tax at KLIA2 was increased to RM73 from RM50 for non-Asean international passengers and to RM11 from RM6 for domestic passengers; making charges at both terminals the same.

AirAsia also maintained that MAHB had not performed its tasks in managing costs in building KLIA2, leading to cost overruns, which the airport operator is now seeking to recover from the travelling public by charging higher airport taxes.

“We will continue to adhere to the legislative provisions under the Mavcom Act and seek our claim through mediation.

However, we reserve the right to exhaust all avenues in recovering losses and damages caused by MAHB’s failure to carry out its duties as an aviation service provider.

We have repeatedly communicated these and other issues to MAHB, but nothing has been done,” they added.

The budget carrier and MAHB have been at loggerheads for years, but the squabble has risen a few notches since the airline moved to KLIA2 from the old low-cost carrier terminal.

AirAsia had proposed to build its own airport in Labu, Negri Sembilan, in 2008, but the idea was rejected by the government.