Malaysia Airlines flight 370

Kuala Lumpur's budget passenger terminal is sinking, airline says

In latest blow to aviation industry, cracks are appearing and pools of water forming at new budget passenger terminal near Kuala Lumpur

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 July, 2015, 11:40pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 July, 2015, 11:40pm

Kuala Lumpur International Airport's new budget passenger terminal is sinking, with cracks appearing in the taxiway and water forming pools that planes must drive through.

The defects could cause flight delays, increase wear and tear on planes and pose potential safety risks, according to AirAsia Bhd., the new terminal's biggest user. Though take offs and landings weren't affected, the carrier had asked Malaysian authorities to fix the problems before passengers got hurt, Chief Executive Officer Aireen Omar said.

"The airport is still sinking," Aireen said. The operator, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd., "has done some partial resurfacing, but what the airport actually needs is a permanent solution."

Complaints about the new terminal cap a bad run for nation's aviation industry, after two accidents for the national carrier - the unsolved disappearance of Flight MH370 in March 2014 and the shooting down of another plane over Ukraine last July. Construction expenses for klia2, as the new terminal is known, rose from an initial estimate of about 1.7 billion ringgit (HK$3.5 billion) to 4 billion ringgit (HK$8 billion).

"Since MH370, a lot of shortcomings have been found" in Malaysia's aviation infrastructure, said Shukor Yusof, of Singapore-based consultancy Endau Analytics.

"The authorities haven't done enough to address these shortcomings." The Transport Ministry has set up an independent audit committee, which will submit a report on ponding issues "in due course", the ministry said. Malaysia Airports, which has used its own funds to rectify the situation, "will be responsible for the findings and proposed solutions," the ministry said.

AirAsia initially refused to move when klia2 opened in May 2014, citing concerns over flight operations and security. The carrier gave in after the government said it would stop immigration and customs services at the old budget terminal.

"If you go to the airport you can see ponding with your very own eyes," said Mohshin Aziz, an analyst at Malayan Banking Bhd. in Kuala Lumpur. Still, he noted, "it's more of an irritation rather than a safety hazard."

Last year, Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai and airport officials were pictured walking through the waterlogged tarmac during an inspection.

Construction of klia2 started in 2009 after the growth of low-cost travel, particularly by Malaysia-based AirAsia, pushed passenger traffic beyond the existing budget terminal's capacity. At 257,000 square metres, klia2 can handle 45 million passengers, with the potential to expand.

Most full-service carriers, including Malaysia Airlines, use the main KLIA terminal, which began operations in 1998 about 50km from Kuala Lumpur after the government relocated the capital's main airport from suburban Subang.

Malaysia Airports said the depressions and ponding at klia2 were caused by differential soil settlement in the apron and taxiway, where some of the structure is built on piling and some stands on normal ground.

The settling "has been anticipated from the start of construction," Malaysia Airports said. Stakeholders are were "constantly engaged on operational issues."

The airport is addressing the issue by resurfacing problem areas and injecting polyurethane under the ground. A concrete slab to be completed by April would provide a more permanent fix, Malaysia Airports said.

Klia2 isn't the only Asian airfield to face initial difficulties.

Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, which opened in 2006 atop a reclaimed swamp, suffered from cracks at taxiways and runways and faulty baggage-scanning machines.

In Japan, the government had to reinforce landfill under Osaka's Kansai International Airport.