Monday, 23 February 2009

Labu & Labi

The Labu LCCT Conundrum; if only the legendary P. Ramlee were alive today, he would be tempted to make his Labu Labi movie into a trilogy (the sequel be Nasib Si Labu Labi). Perhaps he could call it, LCCT Labu Labi. The almost comical ding donging in the past few weeks on the Labu LCCT issue is reminiscence of the classic P. Ramlee movies. In this version, it would star, Air Asia as Labu (M. Zain in the original role) and Malaysian Airports Berhad (MAHB) as Labi (P. Ramlee). Khazanah would then be Haji Bakhil bin Haji Kedekut (Udo Omar) and the bone of contentention, the LCCT would be Manisah Haji Bakhil (Mariani).

What began as a "smash and grab" in the style of the now aborted IJN Takeover attempt by Sime Darby or of, as Rocky's Bru puts it, "Midnight Regulations", the Labu LCCT baby looks to become as real as the false pregnancy it was gestated in. PM designate Najib Razak seems to have put the "Haji Bakhil Mansion" under lock and key with this headline in the NST today; "Najib Shuts The Door On Labu LCCT" as follows:

Najib Shuts The Door On Labu LCCT
(click on image to enlarge)

Now that Najib has reiterated his earlier stand that there will be no Labu LCCT, Tun Mahathir, an early objector to the Labu LCCT must feel vindicated. Syabas Tun!!!

I had been following Tun's convincing arguments in his blogposts on the subject; on 17th January, 2009 entitled Labu Airport:

1. Air Asia has done well to explain the justification for the so-called KLIA-East in Labu.

2. Not having the facilities and personnel I can only give my very unprofessional view on the justification:

a) Passenger Capacity

I must congratulate Air Asia on its very remarkable success. By 2014 it will handle 26 million passengers. Present terminal at KLIA is handling about 25 million passengers.

KLIA is planned to handle 125 million passengers. It has 25,000 acres of land to build another terminal and four satellites. It can even duplicate these terminals and satellites. But Air Asia wants low-cost terminals with no aero-bridge, no luxury interiors. This is not a problem for KLIA.

There is enough space in the 25,000 acres of reserved land to build the low-cost terminal to accommodate the 60 million Air Asia passengers in the distant future. MAHB (Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad) can do this. (Incidentally Putrajaya has only 10,000 acres of land). However, by 2014 the total number of Air Asia passengers would only be 27 million. Accommodating this number should be no big deal for MAHB.

b) Runway capacity

By 2014 Air Asia will have 77 aircrafts. LCCT capacity will still be for 33 aircrafts. Does Air Asia expect all its aircrafts to be on the ground in LCCT all the time?

Usually some would be in the air and many would be at other airports. Expanding the parking area would not be too difficult. There would still be enough land at KLIA.

As for the runways Times Online reports that Heathrow will now build its third runway to be completed in 2020. Presently Heathrow has only two runways and it still handles almost 70 million passengers.

As stated above, KLIA can build another three runways to handle 125 million passengers. If passengers and aircrafts increase to more than presently handled by Heathrow, a third runway can quickly be built.

If KLIA LCCT is not connected by rail and bus, the thing to do is to provide all these. Extension to the Express Rail Link line can be built. Terrain is no problem. We have sliced through higher hills to build roads.

If the waiting time for taxis has increased due to the huge airport layout (I don't understand this), whatever solution for this problem is proposed for Labu, the same solution can also be applied to KLIA LCCT.

c) Number of Gates

Since Air Asia will not be using the main terminal why should the small number of gates there be of concern to Air Asia?

If Air Asia will be putting more than 55 Gates at Labu to cater for its large number of aircrafts and movements, why cannot LCCT at KLIA be expanded to have maybe 100 Gates to avoid any shortages? Will Labu be provided with 100 Gates? If so, when? Again, why be bothered about KLIA Terminal being equipped with aero-bridges etc when Air Asia does not want to use it?

3. The comparison with Dubai and Jackson Atlanta International Airport is misleading.

4. The picture shows four runways (no indication which airport). Multiple runways is common but they are operated by one airport with one control tower. The picture and the layout does not suggest separate towers for different runways. You cannot have multiple runways close to each other but controlled by different towers.

5. Perhaps Air Asia can show documents that separations between different airport runways of 2km are permissible. Is there any example of two major airports operating separately but located 2km from each other? I don't know. Please enlighten me.

6. The problem prompting the idea of a new airport is the allegedly high charges by MAHB for the use of LCCT by Air Asia. MAHB is owned by Khazanah and it is believed Khazanah has a stake in Air Asia. Both are therefore GLCs. The Government can tell them to negotiate fair charges. Or is it the Government that wants this airport at Labu for reasons other than need?

7. Or is it that Sime Darby now wants to go into airport business?

and again on 31st January, 2009 entitled Labu Airport Again:

1. A commentator MoMan who confesses to being a great admirer of mine and is involved in the Labu airport project has tried to explain why Labu airport is necessary.

2. However his reasons for wanting the airport at Labu is mainly because the KLIA is not efficient. Following are its shortcomings;

a. Because of the purchase of the wrong radar KLIA is handling only 35 aircrafts on its two runways when it should be handling 70. This causes delays morning, lunchtime and midnight

b. KLIA's sophisticated conveyor belt is not functioning well because sorting the bags is being done by immigrants who cannot read Malay or English

c. Weak security. Airport operator not investing and managing its people well.

d. Airport operator of the Low Cost Carrier Terminal wastes money building extensions at ridiculously escalated price.

3. Other points raised to justify Labu are;

a. Air Asia needs a permanent home fast.

b. By 2013 Air Asia will need to carry 25 million passengers.

c. KLIA built on swampy land - costly to build.

d. London has five airports. New York has three airports. So has Rome, Paris, Tokyo, Melbourne and Nice.

e. Resuscitate Keretapi Tanah Melayu from the living dead. KTM can make RM62 million a year carrying passengers from and to Labu airport.

4. Now if I may give my opinion; a-d are about inefficiency of KLIA. You don't solve inefficiency by building a new airport. I suspect immigrant labour would still be used at Labu.

5. Air Asia needs a permanent home fast. KLIA can provide that. Klia has 25,000 acres, bigger than Putrajaya. There should be enough space for the 25 million Air Asia passengers and more.

6. KLIA handles 25 million passengers now with two runways and 35 aircraft movements per hour.

7. Labu will have one runway and will need to handle 70 movements per hour in order to handle 25 million passengers. But according to you Gatwick with one runway and great efficiency (busiest runway in the world) handle only 40.6 movements per hour. Will Labu beat Gatwick and handle 70 movements per hour with one runway?

8. All those hubs have as many as five airports. But are they eight kilometres from each other? Heathrow is 40km from Gatwick, Stanstead, Croydon and Luton. All the airports are at least 40km from each other. Labu would be seven kilometres from KLIA. Even Subang is more than eight kilometres from KLIA.

9. It is the same with all the other airports serving the cities named.

10. KTM may not be making money but it is not dead yet if we go by the number of passengers using the commuter. KTM and the Express Rail Link (ERL) will have to invest a substantial sum to carry 6 million more passengers. They may not want to. In which case you will have to rely on road transport or subsidise their development. You have already said you will not do so.

11. Air Asia does not serve most of the long haul routes originating or terminating in KLIA. There will have to be double checking and double handling if Air Asia passengers want to use the KLIA for their travels to or from foreign countries. You need to have dedicated roads or trains between Labu and KLIA.

12. The biggest argument against Labu is its nearness to KLIA. With two control towers uncoordinated control over movements and stacking before landing, with 70 x 2 movements per hour, the possibility of crashes is very real.

13. The government appears to be in control of both Air Asia and KLIA. Why cannot there be negotiations over handling charges instead of spending RM1.6 billion on a new airport?

A bigger question we should all ask is, why was the Malaysian public subjected to this whole Labu LCCT fiasco in the first place? Most of us know that the existing KLIA LCCT was a stop gap measure anyway.

A permanent LCCT was already in the pipeline. According to a Wikipedia entry, MAHB had apparently submitted a proposal to the Transport Ministry to build a new, permanent LCC hub in between the main terminal building and satellite building A to replace the present Low Cost Carrier terminal. This was confirmed by Najib in the above press report.

The new LCCT was to have a capacity for 30 million passengers a year. It was also expected that the new LCCT would be completed by 2011 to 2012. As to the current LCCT, according to the MAHB proposal, it would be converted in to a cargo hub once the new terminal was completed.

The Labu LCCT proposal seemed to have derailed the MAHB plans and upset the timeline.

Another question is; who had the audacity to try the Labu move, given all counter-arguments against its practicality? Perhaps we can put it all down to Rocky's Midnight Regulations postulation.

Whose apple-cart has been upset by Najib's announcement? Wouldn't an enlarged LCCT located at KLIA be the logical and practical choice for travellers and by extention, also Air Asia? After all Skybus, the Air Asia feeder express bus service fare (an affordable RM9.00) is viable enough (by comparision, a normal bus ticket from KL to Malacca cost only about RM8.00).

Maybe Tun's question is spot on; is Sime Darby (or perhaps Tony Fernandez?) now interested in going into the airport business?

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