PASSENGER traffic at the KL International Airport (KLIA) grew by an encouraging 12.3% to 16.325 million last year, making it the fastest growing airport in the region, said its operator, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB).
The growth was achieved despite the slowdown in air travel after the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States and the October 2002 bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. In 2001, passenger movement at KLIA had totalled 14.535 million.
Last year's total included passenger traffic from Air Asia, which began operations at KLIA in July. If the 16.325 million figure is combined with the first six months' traffic at Subang airport, then the total passenger traffic goes up to 17.4 million. Both Malaysia Airlines' (MAS) domestic operations and Air Asia moved to KLIA in July 2002.
MAHB is happy with the double-digit growth in passenger traffic achieved, although at 17.4 million, it is short of its target of 18 million for 2002. The growth was achieved on the back of the company's relentless efforts to woo airlines to fly into Kuala Lumpur, and its commitment to operational service excellence coupled with attractive airport charges.
While KLIA achieved double-digit growth, Singapore's Changi airport only reported a modest 2.9% passenger traffic growth rate to 24.43 million for last year. Hong Kong International Airport reported 32.5 million passengers for 2001; and although its 2002 figures are not yet out, its estimate is 33.8 million, about 4% growth. Passenger traffic at Bangkok's Don Muang airport totalled 30.6 million in 2001.
MAHB executive director Rosman Abdullah told StarBiz the “growth showed the resilience of the Malaysian market's demand for air travel and the increased popularity of KLIA as the preferred airport in the region.''
He said, last year, MAHB managed to get five new airlines to fly into KLIA and over a dozen existing airlines to increase frequencies. “That was a clear indication that KLIA was fast becoming an airport of choice,'' he added.
The five new airlines are Yemenia/Yemen Airways, Kuwait Airways, Air Macau, Orient Thai, and Kyrgyz International Airlines.
The airlines that increased frequencies last year were Emirates, Qatar Airways, Korean Air, Iran Air, Cathay Pacific, Saudi Arabian Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Air Mauritius, Sri Lanka Airways, Eva Airways, Cargolux Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Lauda Air, and Vietnam Airways.
MAS and Air Asia, also increased frequencies to various destinations. However, Turkish Airlines moved out of KLIA last year.
On the outlook for passenger growth at the KLIA in 2003, Rosman said this was difficult to forecast, given the geopolitical uncertainties.
“However, barring any war in Iraq, we expect KLIA to record strong growth as demand for air travel will continue to remain strong in the country as well as in Asia, which is seen as the fastest growing air travel region.
“We are looking at a good year, and expect to do better than the past – if there is no war in Iraq. The introduction of the no-frills airline also acts as a catalyst for growth,'' he said.
Rosman said talks were also progressing well with several other airlines that were considering flying into KLIA this year. Among them are carriers from Australia, Europe and the Middle East.
Meanwhile, analysts view MAHB's sale of the Sepang FI circuit to Ministry of Finance Inc for RM389.3mil as positive, as it would help MAHB concentrate on its core business.
A research report said the disposal would be a boost to MAHB's cashflow and profit. The Sepang circuit has been a drain on the company's cash flow as it is operating at a loss of RM8mil to RM10mil a year, about the same amount spent on maintenance of the circuit.
It added that MAHB would net RM24mil in exceptional gains from the sale and that would be reflected in its current year results ending Dec 31.
The cash proceeds from the sale would be used to offset the deferred payment of KLIA's concession fees. MAHB only paid RM50mil in concession fees in 2001 and still owes the government RM403mil accrued for 2001 and 2002.
MAHB shares closed 3 sen higher at RM1.72 yesterday.