PETALING JAYA: As Covid-19 continues to force most international borders shut, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) is taking the opportunity to upgrade its facilities and to gear up towards the expansion of its airports, especially KLIA.
The group is planning to stretch KLIA’s current capacity of 30 million passengers per annum to 50 million.
The number of passengers handled by the airport was already beyond capacity before Covid-19 struck.
MAHB’s plans were in line with its expectations of a return in passenger traffic to pre-pandemic levels by 2023 or 2024.
It has earmarked RM400mil for its capital expenditure (capex) this year, which will kick off with the first leg of big ticket items such as the upgrading of its baggage handling system (BHS) and the replacement of aerotrains.
Group chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Shukrie Mohd Salleh said the tendering process for the BHS is ongoing and if things run smoothly, the project will be awarded soon.
“The BHS will be 30% faster than the existing one we have. In terms of capacity, it should be able to handle about 50 million passengers per annum, compared to the current 30 million.
“It will take a couple of years to complete because a brownfield project is a lot more complicated.
“The aerotrain replacement is currently being evaluated. We expect to deliver the first train by the second quarter of 2023 and the second train by the second quarter of 2024, ” he told a virtual media briefing session here.
Shukrie added that the new aerotrains will improve the capacity by about 30%, from 4,200 passengers per hour to 5,400 passengers.
Part of the capex would also go into facial recognition technology, MAHB’s Airport Collaborative Decision Making (ACDM) project and to upgrade its airport surveillance cameras to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI).
The ACDM is a system which will allow an airport to collaborate more effectively by sharing real time information with airlines to improve operational efficiency.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty and fluidity with regards to the outlook for the aviation industry as most of the country is now back under the movement control order (MCO) with restrictions on interstate travel.
“The third wave of infection has led to a spike in most countries and we can expect international borders to remain closed for quite a while.
“Nevertheless, we are optimistic that with the availability of vaccines in the second half this year and perhaps more concrete plans on the implementation of travel bubbles, we will start to see continued gradual recovery, ” Shukrie said, adding that MAHB’s projection was about 60% to 70% of pre-Covid-19 levels.
He also pointed out that no airlines ceased operations in 2020 and about 60% of airlines at KLIA had resumed their operations albeit with reduced frequencies.
Taiwan-based Starlux Airlines made its maiden flights to Penang International Airport last year and KLIA earlier this month.
Four cargo airlines - YTO Airlines, Ethiopian Cargo, Cargolux Italia and My Jet Xpress - also made their inaugural flights to KLIA last year.
Meanwhile, It is also noteworthy that MAHB did not take on any retrenchment exercises as a result of Covid-19.
Pre-pandemic, the group had slightly over 10,000 employees in Malaysia and about 600 in Turkey.
Its total workforce is now about 9,000, with the reduction due to natural attrition.
On the group’s four new operating agreements (OAs) with the government to allow for private sector participation and the regulated asset base (RAB) framework, Shukrie said they have cleared most of the terms in the OAs and were now in the last mile with only a few more to finalise.
“As talks are still ongoing, we are not able to provide details but we are anticipating getting it signed by the middle of this year.
“The RAB framework may not be the only funding model to be considered, there are options and flexibility for other sustainable funding mechanisms that we are looking at with the government, ” he said.