Friday, December 22, 2017

Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM) claim that it is ‘unsustainable’ for the Passenger Service Charge (PSC) to be kept at LCCT levels confirms that the fees are hiked to rescue Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB)

MAVCOM told The Malaysian Insight[1] two days ago that
…when klia2 began operations, it had the same PSC rates as the LCCT, despite having far superior services and facilities.  This environment is non-sustainable, given that the costs of operating and maintaining a larger and more advanced airport are higher.
Indeed, we have long criticised and warned the Government on the inflated costs and questionable decisions made by MAHB in the construction of KLIA2 which will inevitably result in subtantially higher operating costs.  The higher cost however, isn’t quite due to MAVCOM’s description of a “more advanced airport”.

Firstly, it is due to more than RM5 billion worth of borrowings MAHB took to finance the airport which today incurs more than RM250 million in interest per annum.

Secondly, it is due to MAHB incompetence and questionable decisions which have resulted in substantially higher than expected maintenance cost.  Despite KLIA2 commencing operations since 2013, the airport is still plagued with soil settlement or sinking problems causing constant operational inconvenience and a state of perpetual repair.

For example, in August this year, urgent repairs had to be carried out at the KLIA2 runway due to soil settlement problems, forcing dozens of outbound and inbound flight delays.  In October last year, a ruptured fuel pipeline – not the first time – was estimated to have taken one and a half months to rectify.

Most obviously, and the biggest complaint by both Air Asia as well as passengers is the unnecessary grandeur in the sheer size and scale of the airport.  This has resulted in extra-long walking distances for airline workers and passengers.  As a result, MAHB was forced to retrofit poorly designed walkalators all around the terminal to ease the inconvenience.  Hence perhaps in this particular instance, MAVCOM is indeed correct to point out that the larger airport is indeed more costly to maintain.

Regardless, the admission by MAVCOM confirms that a key reason for the hike in PSC, also known as the airport tax, is to bailout MAHB which is suffering from losses in its KLIA2 operations.  It should be remembered that the Chief Financial Officer of MAHB, has assured the Public Accounts Committee that MAHB does not need to raise the PSC above and beyond the prescribed inflation rates to ensure operational profitability.  That has clearly turned out to be a lie.

We will not object to a hike in PSC if it is pegged to the annual inflation rates.  However, a hike amounting to 46% to RM73 per international passenger is unacceptable, especially since it is to make the rakyat pay for the follies of MAHB.

It is worse when Malaysians see how biased MAVCOM is, when the latter is prepared to even revise history to justify the above hike.

MAVCOM reiterated to The Malaysian Insight that “KLIA2 was never designed as a low-cost carrier terminal and was not a “hybrid airport” as some claimed”.  There cannot be a greater lie coming from the airline industry regulator which was born only a few years after KLIA2 commenced operations.

KLIA2 was conceived and intended to service the low-cost carrier airlines.  Even the official brochure on KLIA2[2] on the MAHB website site still clearly states so.  And when the cost of the airport ballooned to RM4 billion from the original budget of RM1.7 billion, it was the Deputy Transport Minister, Datuk Aziz Kaprawi who told both the media and the Parliament in 2013 that KLIA2 was not merely a ‘low-cost carrier terminal’ but a ‘hybrid airport’.

Is MAVCOM telling us that both MAHB and the Transport Minister had lied about the nature of KLIA2?

Let me advise the MAVCOM to download a copy of the Public Accounts Committee Report on KLIA2[3] for its commissioners to read and better understand the shenanigans which have taken place during the design, award and construction of KLIA2.  Only then perhaps, Malaysians can hope that MAVCOM will stop punishing tax-payers to save MAHB’s skin.
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