MAHB hits back at AirAsia saying it 'chose to take statement out of context'

Following AirAsia's allegations, Malaysia Airports Holdings (MAHB) has fired back at AirAsia, saying that the airline has "chosen to take [its] statement out of context". MAHB reiterated that its intention was to refute AirAsia's claim that the airline has been experiencing flat growth since the move to Kota Kinabalu International Airport Terminal 1 (KKIA T1).

It added that data has "clearly shown" that after the consolidation of operations, there was indeed substantial traffic growth at KKIA as a whole, as well as for the airline. Hence, contributing to a rise in tourism traffic for Sabah, MAHB said.

In a recent statement, AirAsia said MAHB implied that the negative growth in 2014 and 2015 as the reason for AirAsia's move to KKIA T1. The airline's CEO Riad Asmat called out 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.

MAHB previously confirmed that Sabah's air traffic and tourism are growing, adding that the state welcomed 9.4% more international tourists in 2017, a year after AirAsia shifted to T1. "This resulted in 1.2 million international passengers travelling to Sabah that year. The total tourist arrivals saw a 7.5% surge, from 3.4 million in 2016 to 3.7 million in 2017," MAHB said.

Earlier this week, MAHB also said that AirAsia had benefited to the tune of RM376 million from its series of incentive programmes up until 2017. This was "in tandem with" the significant growth that the airline had enjoyed. The incentive programmes were part of MAHB's efforts to support low-cost travel growth since 2002, including the Airlines Recover Plan and Enhanced Incentive Programme.

In response, Tony Fernandes tweeted that the incentives are given to all airlines and not just AirAsia, adding that it built "a huge business" for MAHB.

MAHB has since clarified in a recent statement that while all other airlines have also enjoyed the same benefit, several incentive programmes were exclusive to AirAsia from 2002 to 2009. These included the Infancy Support Programme and Enhanced Incentive Programme, which were mainly for domestic traffic to support the growth of unchartered low-cost travel then.

"Subsequently incentive programmes such as the Airlines Recovery Programme and Airlines Incentive Programmes 1, 11 and 111 were then made available to other airlines after 2009. AirAsia has been paid RM 376 million in incentives to date, which makes up 44% of the total amount of incentives paid to all airlines and making them the biggest beneficiary," MAHB added.