Airports operator prepares major upgrade works at 20-year-old KLIA

MAHB Group CEO Raja Azmi Raja Nazuddin says he is optimistic passenger growth targets for 2019 will be met despite global economic challenges.

SEPANG: Raja Azmi Raja Nazuddin, who was recently confirmed as group CEO of Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB), is “excited and optimistic” for 2019, as the airport operator prepares to implement a number of major improvements at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

At the top of the initiatives are the total replacement of KLIA’s baggage handling system and its 20-year-old Aerotrain system, a process which would take two to three years to complete.

“We have never done a full replacement of these two facilities on this scale. All this while there have only been refurbishments and upgrades,” he told FMT in an interview recently.

He said the works which would begin this year would improve passenger comfort, amid a sharp increase in passengers over the years.

Last year, over 28 million passengers used KLIA, three million more than its capacity when it was built 20 years ago.

Raja Azmi said MAHB would try its best to minimise disruption of airport services during the upgrade work.

“Most recently, when we upgraded the communication infrastructure, our mitigation plans ensured there were no disruptions to communication services at KLIA.”

Another upgrade work involves Runway 3, used by planes departing KLIA and klia2.

The runway, which has the highest volume of aircraft movements due to the higher frequency of domestic and regional flights, will undergo comprehensive maintenance works.

“We have engaged all the stakeholders, particularly airlines and the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia to inform and discuss on a mitigation plan that will have the least disruption to flight operations and is agreeable to all parties.”

Raja Azmi said the first phase of the maintenance was carried out in 2018 and the second phase would start in the third quarter of this year.

MAHB will also be subjected to greater audit under the Malaysian Aviation Commission’s quality of service framework.

Last year, it passed the audit process with near perfect scores.

The audit, which was previously limited to KLIA and klia2, will be expanded to the Langkawi International Airport and Kota Kinabalu International Airport this year.

“We are also starting a commercial reset throughout KLIA, to ensure passengers enjoy better retail and food and beverage experiences.

“We started the tender process for this last year and airport guests can start to see some new offerings and enhanced ambiance at the KLIA by the second quarter of 2019.”

Raja Azmi said another priority for MAHB this year would be to conclude the review of the Operating Agreement, which will also guide the direction of the Regulated Asset Base (RAB) framework being developed by Mavcom.

RAB allows airport operators to recover the investments they put in towards capacity expansion and service level enhancements, and this will effectively see MAHB being able to take up a role as a developer-operator.

Raja Azmi said 2019 was likely to be a challenging year as the global economy was expected to slow, in part due to the US-China trade war.

“Still, we remain optimistic on passenger growth targets both for our Malaysia and overseas operations,” he said.

He said Malaysia passenger traffic was projected to grow by 4.9%.

“For 2018 Malaysia operations, we closed the year at 99 million passengers. For 2019, we are confident we will cross our 100 million passenger mark.”