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AirAsia CEO: MAHB twisting data to justify Kota Kinabalu airport move.

Low-cost carrier AirAsia has claimed that Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) has twisted the facts by claiming that negative tourist growth in Sabah in 2014 and 2015 was the reason for wanting it to move to Kota Kinabalu International Airport's (KKIA) Terminal 1 (T1).

AirAsia said that by focusing on those two years, MAHB wants the public to believe that passenger traffic had long been on the decline, and that this trend could only be reversed by moving AirAsia out of Terminal 2 (T2).

'This could not be further from the truth,' AirAsia Malaysia CEO Riad Asmat said in a statement today.

AirAsia operated from T2 from mid-2004 until December 2015, when it was compelled to move to T1 in light of amenities and facilities being made unavailable for its operations then.

During that period, KKIA passenger traffic grew year-on-year annually, except in 2014 and 2015.

Riad said the decreased traffic at KKIA during those two years corresponds with a drop in visitor arrivals to Sabah, especially from China, which the then minister of tourism and the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) had attributed to a series of kidnappings in the state, including that of Chinese nationals in two separate incidents in April and May of 2014, and had nothing to do with T2.

'MAHB should stop cherry-picking data to suit its agenda and instead, be an honest partner and work with AirAsia in the best interests of Sabah,' he said.

He said since starting its operations, it has expanded its network there from two to 16 routes currently, including six unique routes, growing its passenger traffic by 25 per cent per annum since 2001.

Riad said Kota Kinabalu was important to the low-cost carrier as it wishes to continue enhancing its air connectivity, and it has big plans to turn KKIA into a hub for services to China, South Korea, Japan and India, and a transit point between Australia and North Asia.

Based on the carrier's projections, over the next 10 years, it can increase its fleet size in Kota Kinabalu from the current eigh aircraft to 45, including 10 Airbus A330s.

'This would more than triple our current capacity and make it possible to operate direct services to key markets such as northern China, South Korea and Japan, as well as Australia and India, allowing AirAsia to carry 18 million passengers to and from Kota Kinabalu by 2028.

'However, we cannot do this while we remain constrained by the higher cost base at T1,' said Riad.

The statement also said the Sabah state government is looking to complete the construction of a new airport in a few years' time, and that AirAsia has requested that a low-cost carrier terminal be considered for inclusion in the master plan.

'T2 can be revived for LCC use, which would also free up T1, which is rapidly approaching capacity, for full-service carriers,' said Riad.

'AirAsia is prepared to take up the costs of refurbishing T2, which MAHB had neglected to maintain or upgrade in a bid to move us to T1. It will be better than before, and there will be no cost to MAHB or the state government.

'All we ask is a chance to continue growing Kota Kinabalu to its truest potential for the benefit of Sabahans, as we have always done,' Riad concluded.

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Publication:Malay Mail Online (Petaling Jaya, Malaysia)
Date:Jul 25, 2018
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