(Petaling Jaya, Friday): Today is the fourth day of operations of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, which is still reeling from the catastrophic chaos and mess since its first day of opening on Tuesday, 30th June 1998.
Malaysians got another shock when they opened the newspapers today to read headlines like "It is not our fault, says TAMS contractor" (New Straits Times), "TAMS did not crash, says operator" (Star) and "Consortium denies TAMS causing problems" (Sun).
This is because the Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik and the Malaysia Airports Berhad had pinpointed the breakdown of TAMS (Total Airport Management Systems) as the primary cause of the KLIA chaos and mess since the first day of operations of the KLIA, when planes were kept in a holding pattern circling KLIA for up to an hour before being allowed to land, passengers were locked in the aircraft for up to three hours because of breakdown of the aerobridge and aircraft bay allocation systems, delays of up to five hours to wait for the luggage, queues of up to 30 minutes just to buy a ticket for a taxi and queues of over two hours to get a taxi!
Malaysians are now totally baffled by the claim by TAMS operator Sapura Tomen Harris (STH) Consortium that TAMS did not break down on the first day of the airport’s commercial operations.
The STH managing director Shukor Karim said it was "absolutely untrue" that TAMS had broken down, asserting that all the TAMS sub-systems have been rigorously tested and were working perfectly on June 30.
He said KLIA’s management system comprised both TAMS and non-TAMS sub-systems, which were designed, developed and installed by other operators.
He said: "We are only responsible for 19 sub-systems. All I can say is that so far TAMS has been delivered to KLIA Berhad as contracted and is working as designed for its intended use.
"The other sub-systems are interfaced to TAMS and the individual operators are responsible for the integrity of data supplied to us".
He said that the Baggage Handling System and Passenger Check-in Processing System, which were mainly blamed for the operational breakdown, were not part of the TAMS network.
If what Shukor Karim says is true that the KLIA mess and chaos since its opening was not because of the breakdown of TAMS, how come the Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik and the Malaysia Airports Bhd which is responsible for the operations of the KLIA do not know about it and were blaming the TAMS breakdown as the primary cause for the disgraceful debut of Malaysia’s airport for the next century?
The New Straits Times, for instance, in its front-page headline story on Wednesday, July 1, 1998 under the heading "First-day disarray at KLIA" reported of a "system breakdown" at KLIA, that complications were apparent from about 6.30 a.m. when passengers arriving for their flights found themselves stuck in long queues at the check-in counters, that apart from the breakdown of the passenger check-in processing system (PCPS), there were problems also with baggage handling, ticketing and gate allocations.
The NST report said:
The Star of the same day reported that the Prime Minister’s departure to Langkawi on board MH1432 at 7.25 a.m. on Tuesday "was the only flight to take off on time as a major glitch in the Total Airport Management System (TAMS) caused flight delays, baggage being lost or misplaced and passengers missing flights".
The Sun of the same date reported that a total of 47 flights were scheduled to arrive at or depart from KLIA between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. on the first day of operations on Tuesday, but several flights were delayed due to technical problems.
Yesterday, Thursday July 2, 1998, The Sun under the headline "Ling admits
drawbacks in trial runs" reported:
"Thus, the authorities could not anticipate the impact of actual full operations"
The report later stated:
"The problem was linked to the Total Airport Management System (TAMS) which integrates all the computer-based systems at the huge airport and this led to delays in flights, mix-up in baggage and some flights taking off without food.
"Ling said the situation improved today as there were shorter queues and less complaints from passengers."
The report went on:
"He added that the TAMS system management developer and controller - the consortium of Sapura Holdings Sdn. Bhd., Tomen Corporation of Japan and Harris Airport System (M) had not been fully tested and commissioned to KLIA Bhd - which will then have to hand it over to MAB."
The New Straits Times of July 2, 1998 reported a statement from Malaysia
Airports (Sepang) Sdn. Bhd saying that "there had been improvements in
passenger flow and baggage handling at the airport today and that the Total
Management System was stabilising".
The Star of July 2, 1998 reported:
"’A breakdown in one system can cause the whole system to crash as they are all linked,’ he said, adding that the baggage handling system was badly affected."
Suddenly, Malaysians are told that the Transport Minister and the Malaysia Airports Bhd. were wrong as the TAMS did not break down on the first day of operations.
Something must be very wrong with the entire management and operations of KLIA when the Transport Minister and the MAB did not know for two days that TAMS did not break down at all.
However, it is not really clear whether the claim by Sapura-Tomen-Harris Consortium that TAMS did not break down and that they are only responsible for 19 sub-systems bears scrutiny.
This is because the Sapura-Tomen-Harris claim yesterday is contradictory to earlier reports and boasts about TAMS before the opening of the KLIA. For instance, the Business Times of 27th January 1998 reported Liong Sik’s "satisfaction" with the results of the baggage-handling system and the TAMS tests.
He said there was a 98.7 per cent success rate in the tests for the baggage-handling system adding: "The baggage handling system test was carried out very well smoothly. The 1.3 per cent failure rate is considered normal. Under normal circumstances, a one or two per cent failure rate is forgiveable, depending on the kind of failures".
The Business Times of 18th February 1998 reported on the results of KLIA’s "most extensive testing to date, involving its entire airport management systems".
It reported the Malaysia Airports Bhd terminal manager Hamid Awang as giving an assurance that "the airport will not be opened until the authorities are satisfied that the operations run smoothly and in tip-top condition".
The report reported Umar Bustamam, the head of Total Airport Management System as saying that "all 29 systems are currently at the site acceptance test stage".
The New Straits Times of 18th March 1998 under the heading "TAMS not to blame for delay in KLIA launch" quoted the KLIA Bhd. general manager (construction) Nazarudin Nordin as denying that TAMS caused the second delay in the opening of the KLIA.
The report said:
"He said the system, which provided a comprehensive information facility for the management of KLIA’s operations, was undergoing integration tests to ensure the different components functioned well together.
"’Factory acceptance testings began in January last year and now we are in the final stages,’ he said, adding that the system had to go through a five-level test before it could be fully operational.
"’Although TAMS is ready, we want further tests to make sure there won’t be any glitches when it has to operate 24 hours a day all year.
"’There is no point opening the airport now. If we are to do so and something happens later it will only give the airport a bad name.’
"TAMS interfaces a total of 41 sub-systems which provide information on the various aspects of the airport’s management including flight information display, baggage handling and air trafic control.
"The system interfaces and integrates most of the electronic information within the airport.
"The sub-systems are connected by a network of fibre optics but can operate independently in the event of a systems failure.
"Nazarudin said that unlike other operations and information systems implemented by new airports such as Chek Lap Kok in Hong Kong and Kansei in Japan, TAMS was ‘special’ since it allowed the different sub-systems to ‘communicate’ with each other.
"Sub-systems in other airports largely operate independently of each other with minimum sharing of information.
"’The challenge for TAMS was to create a common infrastructure and standard interface for information flow between different sub-systems. It is the world’s first airport management system to do so.’"
The Business Times of 31st March 1998 under the headline "Advanced integrated trials at KLIA will start in May: Ling" reported on Liong Sik’s announcement of advanced integrated trials in May to "test the integration of the Total Airport Management System, including baggage handling, passenger check-ins and flight information display systems, among other things".
The report said:
"A total of 444 tests has been conducted at the airport since September 16 last year."
The Business Times of 22nd May 1998 under the headline "It’s all systems go at KLIA trial runs" reported that "The advanced trial runs to prepare the new KL International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang for commercial operations are in full swing and progressing smoothly".
The Business Times of 17th June 1998 under the headline "Testing RM700 m Tams before opening of KLIA" reported Umar Bustamam as saying that Mlaysia Airport Bhd officials were working feverishly around the clock to ensure the RM700 million Total Airport Management System installed at the KLIA would be ready for the June 27 opening.
The report said:
"He said the gradual integration of the various systems under Tams started two years ago and the process would go on even after the opening of the airport as more systems will be installed at KLIA.
"The idea to instal TAMS at KLIA was mooted by Anglo-Japanese Airport Consultant (AJAC) five years ago and since then its implementation was taken over by Malaysian-Japanese Airport Consultant (MJAC) team comprising Sapura-Tomen and Harris, he said.
"The nerve centre for TAMS is the Airport Operation Centre (AOC) supported by a crisis control centre, network management centre, security operation centre, engineering operation centre and others.
"Umar said the AOC will monitor the efficiency of all systems under TAMS and rectify all problems related to systems integration.
"Asked what will happen to KLIA if TAMS suffers a breakdown, Umar said daily operation at the airport will not be affected but the service will be less efficient as it will be done manually.
"There are 300 local and expatriate officers involved in manning and ensuring smooth running of the system 24 hours a day, he said.
"As part of TAMS, the airport management has also installed a 700-km long fibre optics cable, interconnecting the 160-odd buildings situated within the airport compound.
"He said the concept of Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) had arrived earlier at KLIA with the introduction of TAMS and the system will be an integral part of the MSC."
Extracts from press clippings of previous reports on TAMS raise many
The confused and conflicting statements made by the Transport Minister, MAB and Sapura-Tomen-Harris about TAMS, as to whether it had crashed or not, do not inspire confidence of Malaysians and international travellers that we have a team of airport management experts who really know their job.
The Cabinet should direct that a full account of the monumental chaos and mess at the KLIA from the first day of the operations on Tuesday, the causes, the magnitude of the chaos and mess, what actions had been taken to ensure that there would be no recurrence, should be made public immediately to restore national and international confidence in the KLIA not only as an airport for the next century, but also as an airport for the present.