KLIA has potential to grow despite masterplan changes

The original plan did not take into account the growth of the LCC business


THE Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) can still be developed as an aviation and aerospace hub, despite some changes to its total physical development due to the mushrooming low-cost carrier (LCC) operators.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (picture) said in the original plan, a second satellite building was supposed to be built once KLIA reaches 25 million passengers annually.

Instead, in 2014, another airport — KLIA2 — was built next to the first terminal.

All LCCs shifted from Subang Skypark to KLIA2 as the former had reached its full capacity.

“When I launched KLIA in 1998, I never expected to see this place grow. There was only a terminal building with a few facilities, but now it has two runways, and a third runway was also added.

“There are many other buildings including cargo and engineering facilities and the Sepang International Circuit. There are also ideas to have a more aviation-based industry here; the potential to grow is still very big,” Dr Mahathir told the media after launching the “KLIA Turns 21: Precious Legacy” event at Sepang, Selangor, yesterday.

He said in the original long-term blueprint, the 100 sq km land bank of a former agricultural area was supposed to house four satellite buildings and two terminals that could cater up to 125 million passengers a year.

“When we planned for the second satellite building to be built once we hit 25 million passengers a year, we had not anticipated the growth of the LCC business.

“However, the introduction of the low-cost terminal has contributed to the huge number of total passengers — 60 million — at both KLIA and KLIA2,” he said.

At yesterday’s event, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) announced that the airport operator has signed a memorandum of business collaboration with Pos Aviation Sdn Bhd to improve airside connectivity at both terminals.

MAHB chairman Tan Sri Zainun Ali said the collaboration with the ground handler company is expected to cover the development of a virtual platform to serve passengers using both terminals, which share the same international code — “KUL”.

She added that the inter-terminal connectivity is important in positioning the airport as a strong aviation hub.

Currently, Pos Aviation — a Pos Malaysia Bhd subsidiary — and Aero-Darat Services Sdn Bhd are dominating ground-handling services at both terminals. The latter is a corporation owned by Malaysia Airlines Bhd.

The Malaysian Reserve had reported that the largest airport operator was coming up with the KUL Masterplan, which addresses a consolidation effort plan with the airport, ground handlers and airlines to establish airside interlining between both airports.

The initiative, however, may face challenges as airline operators like AirAsia Group Bhd have voiced their objection over the interconnectivity. The company is MAHB’s biggest customer, making up 98% of the passenger traffic at KLIA2.

The interchange could allow both passengers and luggage systems to be fully integrated, saving passengers’ minimum connecting time — the amount of transfer time that is considered enough for a passenger to connect between an arriving and a departing flight.

“KUL already has many inherent advantages such as its geographical location within a strong area of growth, its combined terminal capacity of 75 million passengers per year and three independent runways.

“We hope to be able to improve the connectivity at KUL by implementing the airside transfer between the two terminals,” Zainun said.

After launching the event, Dr Mahathir viewed the original scale model of KLIA Main Terminal, which was created 25 years ago by Japanese firm Kisho Kurokawa Architect and Associates.

He also tested MAHB’s new security body scanners, which will be able to detect foreign objects on passengers’ bodies, reducing the manual security pat-down.

Over 100 scanners are expected to be installed at both terminals by 2022, from the current 10 units.

MAHB also launched its single-token passenger journey initiative, which is a whole new travelling experience powered by facial recognition, big data analytics and the Internet of Things, in conjunction with the celebration.

Dr Mahathir also hopes that the KLIA Aeropolis idea, as outlined in the National Aerospace Industry Blueprint 2015-2030, would attract more aviation and aerospace companies to the area.

He said one of the successes of KLIA Aeropolis is the development of its Digital Free Trade Zone Park, a partnership with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, which is set to be operational in June 2020.