No good will come out of AirAsia-MAHB feud

In recent weeks, two of the biggest names in the Malaysian aviation industry have been in the headlines, though not necessarily for the reasons they’d like.

The long-drawn feud between AirAsia and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB), the country’s main airports operator, reignited after MAHB took AirAsia to court over RM36.11 million in uncollected airport tax.

The bad blood between AirAsia and MAHB has been there for years, but the latest turn of events, from MAHB’s lawsuit over the passenger service charges (PSC) to AirAsia’s fierce attacks on MAHB, including through the #fairporttax hashtag, has taken the feud to new heights.

Essentially, the PSC issue revolves around AirAsia’s refusal to collect the government-gazetted RM73 PSC for non-Asean international flights and instead collect and pass on only RM50 to MAHB, a practice other airlines say is unfair.

AirAsia has defended its refusal to collect the RM73 on the basis that it is unfair to passengers owing to what it feels is an inferior level of service and facilities in klia2, the main airport it operates out of, compared with KLIA.

This is disputed by MAHB which points to klia2’s scores in surveys by the Airports Council International and the Malaysian Aviation Commission.

The reality is that regardless of the PSC rate, someone is likely to be unhappy.

What is certain is that there is no winner in this open spat.

This is why Transport Minister Loke Siew Fook called for calm so that any issue between AirAsia and MAHB can be resolved.

It would be more productive for AirAsia to take its grouses over the PSC straight to the government, since Putrajaya is the one which determines the rates.

There is a need for the government to move fast on this issue, because there is a lot at stake.

Already it has led to cries of an uneven playing field from other airlines while the shortfall from the lesser collections could affect MAHB’s ability to upgrade and improve the 39 airports it runs.

The lesser collections also ultimately affect the government’s revenue, at a time it is trying to reduce its debts because 11.8% of MAHB’s revenue goes to Putrajaya as part of its user fee.

Loke has a tough challenge on his hands in bringing old foes to a peaceful settlement, but it is something he has to do.

In an increasingly competitive industry, all stakeholders need to work together not just for the benefit of the industry but the country as well.

Robin Augustin is a journalist with FMT.