ROUTES: Kualu Lumpur Airport bullish on growth

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Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) is again seeing double-digit traffic growth, driven by continued growth at Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia as well as by legacy carriers.

"Previously we saw a lot of growth from the low-cost side. Now we see more balanced growth from both sectors, which is good," says Malaysia Airports general manager of marketing Sallauddin Mat Sah. "Full service is poised to take advantage of the recovery in the industry."

In the first half of this year, KLIA handled 16.2 million passengers, compared with 13.5 million for the same period last year. Sallauddin says flag carrier Malaysia Airlines is growing again and KLIA also has secured this year three new airlines - Iran's Mahan Air, Oman Air and Royal Jordanian. In 2009, two carriers - Air Zimbabwe and Air Astana - launched services to Kuala Lumpur.

Sallauddin says for many of these new carriers, important meetings took place during the 2008 World Route Development Forum, which Kuala Lumpur hosted. "What Routes Kuala Lumpur has done is we were able to showcase what the airport and city can offer. Now all airlines of the world have better understanding of what a destination Kuala Lumpur is," he says.

At this year's forum, Malaysia Airports again has a big exhibit and a large delegation consisting of more than 20 employees, including its chairman and managing director. The company last month celebrated the groundbreaking of a new low-cost terminal in Kuala Lumpur, which is now scheduled to open in April 2012. Salluaddin says the new terminal, which replaces a cramped temporary low-cost terminal, is "meant to cater to AirAsia's requirement because they have a larger growing fleet". But it will also be open to other carriers.

The new low-cost terminal will be connected to downtown Kuala Lumpur and the main terminal by rail. Sallauddin says there will also be an airside bus connection between the two terminals. He says Malaysia Airports also plans to introduce early next year an airside bus service connecting the temporary low-cost terminal and main terminal. Currently passengers connecting between the two terminals have to endure a 30 minute drive and the KLIA Express Train does not serve the low-cost facility.

Sallauddin says Malaysia's second-largest airport, Kota Kinabalu International, is also growing fast. He says a runway project at Kota Kinabalu will be completed early next year. At about the same time the airport's temporary low-cost terminal will be closed and AirAsia will move to the main terminal where he says there is plenty of room to accommodate AirAsia's fast-growing Kota Kinabalu hub as well as other growth. "It will result in better service for passengers," he says.

The growth in Kinabalu is being driven mainly by new services from China, Korea and Japan, as the Malaysian state of Sabah "has become a very popular leisure destination".