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AirAsia and Malaysia Airports spar over Kota Kinabalu terminals

AirAsia and Malaysia Airports have again engaged in a war of words over the carrier’s forced move to Terminal 1 at Kota Kinabalu International airport (KKIA) in 2015.

In a statement released on 23 July, Malaysia Airports attributed a 9.4% increase in international tourist arrivals to the state of Sabah last year to the consolidation of airlines at Kota Kinabalu International airport's terminal 1 in December 2015.

The operator adds that the move in December 2015 "facilitated growth" for AirAsia, which was originally based at KKIA's terminal 2, as growth through the airport hovered "between 2 to 3% in 2014/15... and jumped to 5% in 2016, 11% in 2017 and 15% for the first half of 2018".

AirAsia Malaysia chief executive Riad Asmat hit back at the airport operator, stating on 25 July that the lower growth in 2014/15 corresponded with a drop in Chinese arrivals due to kidnappings in Sabah, "and has nothing to do with T2".

"We were compelled to move to T1 in light of amenities and facilities being made unavailable [at T2] for our operations then. During that period, KKIA passenger traffic grew year-on-year every year, except in 2014 and 2015," he adds,

The carrier has instead called on Malaysia Airports to allow it move back to T2, which would facilitate further network expansion into China, South Korea, Japan and India. Allowing it to operate from the facility would enable its Kota Kinabalu base to grow from eight aircraft to 45 over the next decade – including 10 Airbus A330s operated by sister carrier AirAsia X.

AirAsia has offered to bear the costs of refurbishing and expanding the facility, which could facilitate it to carry 18 million passengers through Kota Kinabalu by 2028. "However, we cannot do this while we remain constrained by the higher cost base at T1," adds Asmat.

Malaysia Airports also drew the ire of AirAsia Group chief executive Tony Fernandes after claiming that its incentive programmes and lower passenger service charges at the now defunct low-cost carrier terminal at Kuala Lumpur International airport were drivers of the budget airline’s growth.

The airport operator says that between 2007 and 2009, incentives "were given exclusive to AirAsia... to the tune of MYR376 million ($92.6 million)".

Fernandes responded on Twitter, noting that all airlines are provided incentives by airport operators, and that it was AirAsia that had in turn "built a huge business for Malaysia Airports”. He adds that rather than support, it was given “quite the opposite” by the operator.

“But we have done our best but my point is we could have done so much more and created so many more jobs if they had worked with their biggest customer,” he added.

Fernandes also expressed hope that the Malaysian Aviation Commission will effectively “police” Malaysia Airports’ monopoly power in the future.

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