Aeroflot’s pull-out highlights KLIA’s disastrous start in the Eighth Malaysia Plan - and a change of Transport Minister is the first meaningful step for KLIA’s turnaround to become regional aviation hub

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The announcement that Russian carrier Aeroflot has become the fifth foreign airline to stop services to the RM10 billion Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA)  is another blow to the nation’s effort to become a regional aviation hub and a disastrous start for the KLIA in the Eighth Malaysia Plan.

British Airways,  Australia's Qantas Airways, Germany's Lufthansa and Japan's All Nippon Airways had earlier pulled their services out of Kuala Lumpur because the route wasn't profitable.

What Malaysians find disgusting is the complacency of the Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik to the Aeroflot pullout, making the inane statement that it had not affected the KLIA hubbing committee’s efforts to attract more international airlines to fly into the airport.

Malaysians will remember that when Japan's second biggest airline, ANA, became the fourth airline to withdraw since KLIA opened in mid-1998, following British Airways, Qantas and Lufthansa, leaving KLIA with 41 airlines as compared to  Singapore Changi Airport’s  68 airlines, Liong Sik said “the move had little impact as the airport was attracting services from many other airlines”.

In the New Straits Times report (2.3.2001), under the heading “Ling: Airline’s decision has little impact”, Ling said: “You gain some and you lose some…”

The NST report said:

“Dr Ling  disagreed that the Government was losing revenue, in terms of landing rights and taxes as a result of the withdrawals.

“’There is continued effort to promote KLIA…it is gaining international recognition as it grows year to year.  Other airlines are beginning to realise the full potential of the airport.’

“He said except for occasional problems, the airport was still considered among the best in the world.”

Such Ministerial complacency is most sickening and fully bears out Liong Sik’s pet theory that a fish rots from the head!

It is fortunate that there wa another Cabinet Minister who was worried by the suspension of flights by the foreign airlines into KLIA - the Minister for Culture, Arts and Tourism, Datuk Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, who sounded the alarm in a statement on 4th March, 2001.

It was only a week later that Liong Sik announced that his Ministry had set up a special committee to attract foreign airlines to fly to Kuala Lumpur. He said that the “hubbing” committee would include representatives from Malaysia Airports Bhd. and Malaysia Airlines and would be chaired by the Transport Ministry secretary-general Datuk Zaharah Shaari.

It is clear however that the formation of the “hubbing” committee and “desperate” measures like offering foreign airlines free landing and parking rights had not been able to reverse KLIA’s fortunes.

On 30th April 2001, the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) announced that new service  standards will be introduced at KLIA to make it “a premier aviation hub in the region”, including new operational standards that adhere to international      practices, especially pertaining to baggage handling and  transportation services. Delivery time for baggage will be lowered  from the current minimum time of 20 minutes. Steps will also be  taken to improve the taxi and limousine services at the arrival terminal.

This is a most  shocking announcement as it was less than three years ago that KLIA described as the  “airport of the next century” and “a truly first-class airport and probably the best in the world”,  was opened to grand fanfare after iong Sik himself boasted that the KLIA will have the   world’s first airport system - the  RM700 million  Total Airport Management System (TAMS) - as well as the world’s  most sophisticated baggage handling system,  the Passenger and Baggage Reconciliation System (PBRS), which could not only detect any passengers who fail to board their flights, but also pin-point a passenger’s luggage and retrieve it within seconds.

But all these colossal expenditures, hardware and software did not work, and less than three years after its opening, the KLIA’s baggage problem had to go all the way to the NEAC!

The NEAC also announced that  the government had also appointed a private consultant to initiate a comprehensive study on making KLIA a successful regional hub. To be completed within the next few  months, the study will include meium and long-term strategies  towards increasing flight frequencies at KLIA.

This is putting the cart before the horse. Surely, before the government made the decision to build the RM10 billion KLIA, all the “comprehensive studies” about it becoming a regional hub would have been done - and not after building the “white elephant” of an international airport to then study how to make it more useful and productive!

The Eighth Malaysia Plan (para 10.86) said: “Efforts will continue to be taken to improve efficiency and performance standards of services in KLIA to make KLIA the regional aviation hub.  In addition, the airport operator and the national air carrier will jointly promote KLIA and attract more foreign airlines to operate flights into and from KLIA, for both passenger and cargo services.”

It is a great irony that the Eighth Malaysia Plan has started with the withdrawal of a fifth foreign airline from KLIA, as well as cargo statistics for KLIA for the first quarter of the year down almost 50% compared with the same period last year.
Aeroflot’s pull-out should  highlights KLIA’s disastrous start in the Eighth Malaysia Plan - and a change of Transport Minister with someone who is really dynamic, responsible and without any “rotten head”  is the first meaningful step for KLIA’s turnaround to become a regional aviation hub.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman