Malaysia's budget terminal targets May 2 opening

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) has maintained that the new budget terminal KLIA2 will begin operations on May 2 next year, despite reported doubts that this will happen.

The scepticism was expressed on the front page of Malaysian daily The Star on Tuesday, which said that the extended deadline - already the sixth - will possibly not be met, given the slow pace of construction.

The newspaper, which sent a team to the building site located just 1.5 kilometres from KLIA found the main terminal only 60 per cent completed. The internal roads linking the main terminal to the other parts of the airport complex have yet to be built; a 300 metre pedestrian sky-bridge was also to be completed.

An unnamed international construction sector specialist told the newspaper that KLIA2 could be ready by the end of April next year - "provided that the remaining work is carried out with greater intensity".

Contrary to expectations that MAHB's contractors would be doing their utmost to meet the deadline, The Star said that work was proceeding only "at a normal pace" and was "even slower on weekends, with hardly any movement of machinery and few workers on the site".

The 257,000 square metre project, designed to enable seamless connectivity for travellers using local and international low-cost and full-service carriers, is already under intense scrutiny because of the persistent setbacks and the doubling of costs to RM4 billion (S$1.6 billion).

Further delays are likely to give opposition lawmakers reason to intensify calls for an independent audit of the project.

Airlines scheduled to operate out of the new budget terminal, including key user AirAsia, would also be forced to revise their plans.

KLIA2, conceptualised because of the explosive growth in low-cost travel, is meant to replace the existing Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT); the repeated pushback of the completion deadline is thus being played out against the need to accommodate the growing passenger traffic passing through KLIA and the LCCT.

MAHB senior general manager of operations Azmi Murad said that KLIA and the LCCT are on track to handle 43 million passengers by year's end, up from 39.8 million last year.

Because of the delays, MAHB has said that it would impose liquidated and ascertained damages amounting to some RM6 million a month on its main contractor, UEM-Bina Puri; smaller contractors could also be penalised.

It remains to be seen whether the state-owned airport operator will succeed in its claims; already, AirAsia and UEM-Bina Puri have denied culpability.

Government agencies have not been spared in the game to apportion blame for the delays. For example, the Immigration Department asked for additional counters fairly late; the Department of Civil Aviation wanted the control tower - already partially-built - moved elsewhere.

And many are wondering whether it was too optimistic of MAHB to have set a commencement date a mere two days after its contractors' stated date of completion.

KLIA2 missed its first deadline of September 2011; the most recent deadline of June 28 also came and went without the facility being ready to roll.