Third major breakdown in two months of KLIA’s most sophisticated baggage-handling system in the world  – is it still having  “teething” problems or is it already suffering from obsolescence

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Tuesday): The third major breakdown in two months of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA)’s most sophisticated, fastest and most expensive  baggage handling system in the world raises the fundamental question as to whether the much-touted baggage handling system is still suffering from “teething” problems or whether it is already suffering from obsolescence – whether systemic or from the total lack of a culture of maintenance.

The  breakdown of KLIA’s baggage handling system on Sunday, which delayed six international flights bound for Sydney, Jakarta, Beijing, Shanghai, Canton and Guangzhou, was a sad confirmation that in its  four-and-a-half years of operation, the RM9 billion KLIA had been more of  a national nightmare than a national dream.  

Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik said yesterday that his Ministry would set up a committee to investigate the  breakdown in the luggage handling system in KLIA, stressing that it was imperative to overcome the problem as soon as possible with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit just around the corner. 

It is clear that Ling would not have made a surprise visit to KLIA to check on the baggage handling system and would be in his traditional mode of evincing no sense of  urgency whatsoever  if not for the forthcoming 13th  NAM Summit, the biggest-ever international political conference in Malaysia which is expected to be attended by the majority of the 114-member countries and guests from other international organizations – which is an adverse reflection on his Ministerial competence and performance. 

Ling had not made any surprise visits to KLIA in the first two major breakdowns of the KLIA baggage handling system last December, the first time during the Hari Raya holidays on Dec. 4 which forced long delays to seven domestic and international flights and the second time on Dec. 29. 

Nobody knows what  good the new  Transport Ministry committee announced by Ling yesterday could do, when last month, Ling had already announced a technical team to look into the baggage handling system at the airport, claiming that  “engineers had got to the bottom of the problem” causing the two incidents of the baggage system breaking down in December. (Star 15.1.03) 

Malaysians can still remember that when the RM9 billion KLIA, billed as “the airport of the next century”, was opened in 1998, Ling boasted that  the KLIA had  the most sophisticated baggage handling system in the world, 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!

However, in the first week of operations of the KLIA, the world’s fastest and most sophisticated baggage handling system  proved to be  the worst in the world, creating mountains of baggages because of the  monumental mix-up of the thousands of baggages coming from different parts of the globe.

Ling had two explanations at the time for the awful KLIA mess and chaos – firstly, that these were “teething problems” of the world’s most expensive, fastest and most sophisticated baggage handling system and secondly, that only “Only God can guarantee” problem -free operations of the KLIA. 

With three major breakdowns in two months, Malaysians must ask whether the world’s  most expensive, fastest and most sophisticated baggage handling system is still undergoing “teething problems” or it is already facing problems of obsolescence and has become out-of-date after four and a half years of commissioning of the system? 

A  Malaysian Airport Bhd. spokesperson had said after the third breakdown in two months that  the baggage handling system is fine, which must mean that  the problem is not in the computer-ware but in the human-ware – i.e. the people responsible for manning and maintaining the system, as well as the problem of management and Ministerial leadership! 

As I concluded in my media statement dated 4th January 2003 after the second major breakdown of the KLIA baggage handling system causing flight delays, Malaysians have enough of the sea of excuses for sheer incompetence and ineptitude in the four-and-a-half year operation of KLIA. The time has come for a new Transport Minister to ensure that the RM9 billion KLIA stop being an eternal  national nightmare but begin to be  a fulfillment of  a national dream – that it really be the  “airport of the century” before it becomes  the “airport museum of the century”. All before Ling is tempted to invoke the ultimate excuse that all the KLIA major breakdowns are the “Act of God”!


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman