New KL budget terminal faces more delay

MALAYSIA - Malaysia's low-cost-carrier terminal Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) could face yet another delay beyond its May 2 opening date after reports of cracks near the planes' parking area surfaced even as contractors are putting finishing touches to the airport.

Amateur photos taken anonymously that appeared on a local news portal on Wednesday have showed an uneven surface and visible lines running across the airport's taxiway, raising safety concerns on the airport, which costs RM4 billion (S$1.5 billion).

The taxiway connects the runway to the planes' parking bays and the hangar.

Analysts said while the cracks can be fixed in one or two months, that leaves Malaysia Airports Holdings (MAHB) - the company in charge of KLIA2's construction - with even less time to perform test runs on the airport.

It usually takes at least three months for an operational readiness test to be completed. This includes runway tests and inspections on baggage handling as well as safety tests on the building.

Maybank Investment Bank aviation analyst Mohshin Abdullah said the reported cracks fuel doubts on whether the airport will really open in two months.

"Even without these reports, many doubt the airport will be fully operational by May as it already has other safety issues to iron out," he told The Straits Times on Wednesday. "But it is perplexing because the government has insisted that May 2 will be the launching date."

KLIA2, just 10km away from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, on the outskirts of Selangor, is to replace the current low-cost-carrier terminal, which has become overcrowded in recent years as businesses of budget airlines such as AirAsia exploded.

KLIA2 will have a capacity of 45 million passengers a year, more than the current KLIA, which can move 35 million passengers. The current low-cost-carrier terminal can only handle 15 million a year.

But the new airport has suffered multiple delays, construction problems and cost overruns.

It was first expected to be completed in April 2012, then June 2013 and now May 2. Then its cost ballooned from RM1.7 billion, when it started in 2010, to RM4 billion currently dueto various changes in the building design.

MAHB is 40 per cent-owned by Khazanah Nasional, the government's investment arm.

Last Saturday, acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein tweeted that the airport will be operational on schedule as it is the government's immediate focus. "KLIA2 to open 2nd May so everyone can depart," he tweeted.

But questions on KLIA2's safety remain. Early this month, MAHB said two-thirds of the terminal did not meet fire and safety standards. Inspections by authorities, including the Fire Department and the municipal council, also uncovered cracks in sewerage pipes outside the terminal, while some parts of the road and drainage at the airport are unfit.

Authorities have not issued KLIA2 with a building completion certificate, an essential document to declare a building's safety.

Aviation analysts said information about KLIA2's construction is scarce. Visits to the construction site are not allowed, while MAHB rarely offers public updates.

Mr Ang Kok Heng, chief investment officer at Phillip Mutual, a fund management company, said MAHB risks running into more reputation issues if KLIA2 is not perceived as safe.

"If passengers are wary of KLIA2's safety, they will also avoid using the airport," he said.

MAHB did not respond to The Straits Times' queries on Wednesday.

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