Terminal silence

Controversy is brewing in Malaysia over a new airport that looks set to be built for the capital Kuala Lumpur by budget carrier AirAsia and government-linked conglomerate Sime Darby. It is already a political hot potato and things are likely to get hotter.

It all began last month, when it was quietly revealed that the government had given approval for AirAsia and Sime Darby to build a new “low-cost carrier terminal” at an area called Labu, not far from the existing flagship Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). It will be built on land owned by Sime Darby and the passenger terminal will be owned and managed by AirAsia.

Few other details were revealed, by either the government or by the would-be partners AirAsia and Sime Darby. And there are still almost no details available, the most important being an answer to the question of why it is needed. Some have asked why not convert the more conveniently located old Subang airport for use by low-cost carriers instead.

State-owned Malaysia Airports, which runs KLIA, is privately lobbying to stop the new Labu facility from being built. It built a terminal specifically for use by low-cost carriers at KLIA in 2006 and is now proposing to build a much bigger new budget terminal at KLIA.

Interestingly (to me at least), AirAsia and Sime Darby have avoided calling the planned new Labu facility an airport, instead calling it a “terminal” in their brief stock exchange announcements in which they have said only that they are still in talks over it. Call it what you like – the government says it will be known as KLIA East @ Labu – but since it will have its own runway I for one will continue referring to it as an airport.

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has now entered the debate, complaining about the new airport in a blog entry which can be found here. Mahathir is a vocal critic of the current government and many people discount much of what he says these days. But on this issue he makes several valid points.

There is much that is going on behind the scenes and there is much more to come on this issue. Is it one of AirAsia taking on Malaysia Airports? Is there a power play going on between Malaysia Airports and Sime Darby? Watch this space.

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One Response to Terminal silence

  1. Ivan 8 January, 2009 at 4:25 am #

    Nicholas,

    I am a Malaysian living in London and have been following this development closely.

    It is so very obvious that there is something fishy going on between Sime Darby, Air Asia and the government.

    I agree with you that this KLIA@Labu East or whatever they decide to call it, is just an airport and NOT an extension of KLIA as Air Asia has suggested. I can’t see how it can be called an extension being almost 10km away from KLIA!?

    It’s even more ridiculous to read some government orchestrated articles in the mainstream newspapers citing that it is just like Terminal 1 vs Terminal 5 at London Heathrow! Oh please! T5 whilst being far from T1, these terminals actually share most of the facilities of Heathrow including the same runways and same air traffic control. Also KL is a VERY small city and does not need so many airports.

    Like yourself I am eagerly waiting for the government to provide more details but I am not holding my breath.

    Ivan.

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