AirAsia has called out Malaysia Airports Holdings (MAHB) for "cherry-picking data to suit its agenda" and instead, be an honest partner and work with the airline "in the best interest" of Sabah.
This was in response to a recent statement by MAHB, which confirmed that Sabah's air traffic and tourism are growing. The statement said that negative growth in 2014 and 2015 at Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) was the reason for wanting to move AirAsia from KKIA Terminal 2 (T2) to T1. The airline's CEO Riad Asmat said that by focusing on those two years, MAHB would have consumers believe that passenger traffic "had long been on the decline" and that this trend could only be reversed by moving AirAsia out of T2. He said:
This could not be further from the truth.
He explained that the airline has been operating from T2 from mid-2004 until December 2015, and was compelled to move to T1 as amenities and facilities were being made unavailable for its operations then. During that period, KKIA passenger traffic grew year-on-year annually, except in 2014 and 2015.
The decline in traffic at KKIA during those two years was due to a drop in visitor arrivals to Sabah, especially from China. According to Riad, the Minister of Tourism and the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents had attributed to a series of kidnappings in the state, including of Chinese nationals in two separate incidents in April and May of 2014. He added that the decline "has nothing to do with" T2. Riad said:
Kota Kinabalu is important to us. We wish to continue enhancing its air connectivity.
He added that AirAsia has "big plans" to make KKIA into a hub for services into China, South Korea, Japan and India, and a transit point between Australia and North Asia. The airline is expected to increase its fleet size at Kota Kinabalu over the next 10 years, from eight aircrafts to 45, more than tripling its current capacity.
Riad said this will enable AirAsia to operate direct services to key markets such as northern China, South Korea and Japan, as well as Australia and India, allowing AirAsia to carry 18 million passengers to and from Kota Kinabalu by 2028. "However, we cannot do this while we remain constrained by the higher cost base at T1," he added.
Since it began operating to Kota Kinabalu, AirAsia has expanded its network there from two to 16 routes currently, including six unique routes, growing its passenger traffic by 25% per annum since 2001.
"We note that the Sabah state government is looking to complete construction of a new airport in a few years’ time, and we have requested that an low-cost carrier (LCC) terminal be considered for inclusion in the master plan," Riad said.
In the meantime, he suggested that T2 can be revived for LCC use, which would also free up T1, which is rapidly approaching capacity, for full-service carriers. He added that the airline is prepared to take up the costs of refurbishing T2, which MAHB had "neglected" to maintain or upgrade, in a bid to move AirAsia to T1.
"It will be better than before, and there will be no cost to MAHB or the state government. All we ask is a chance to continue growing Kota Kinabalu to its truest potential for the benefit of Sabahans, as we have always done," Riad added.