When an airport loses its value

By Hasnah Abd Rahman

Some 10 years ago, I was appointed as the Media Consultant for Malaysia Airports for nearly two years.

It was an interesting appointment because the GLC has a big PR team – 25 staff in the Group’s Corporate Comms Dept, 6 staff in KLIA PR and around another 20 comms staff spread over its various subsidiaries. And with my staff and I as the outsourced consultants, it does look like a big team, doesn’t it? Actually, at that time, the Group was handling 39 airports in the country and then there is the Astana Airport in Kazakhstan and Incheon in Korea. Yes, Malaysia Airports were the project consultants for these two international airports.

I can say in no uncertain terms that every other day there was a crisis to manage and at least two to three times a week there was some kind of event in any of those airports which we had to guide the team to coordinate with the media. From missing baggage to delayed flights – those were the least of our problems, really. In fact, most of the time it was the problem of the airport’s clients, ie the airlines, the limousine company, the cleaners and all the various contractors and suppliets.

Some of the outstanding activities during the time I was there was the opening of the LCCT and the test run for the A380, the first time it landed in Malaysia.

This was of course during the time when Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was the Prime Minister and Dato’ Sri Najib was the Deputy Prime Minister.

Ten years prior to that when the then Prime Minister, Tun Mahathir decided to change the airport from Subang to KLIA, there was a lot of hue and cry. After all, the money spent could have been used to improve and expand Subang Airport. But perhaps at that time the available airspace was a major concern and they also had to take into consideration the possible expansion with more landing rights and new routes. And of course, everyone knew that PM4 had to grow the economy by creating more development projects and cronies were also waiting and pressuring him with all kinds of proposal papers for mammoth projects.

The thing is, we all know politics is big business. We closed one eye to the handing over of projects to the cronies as we thought once the country grows, we all may enjoy the spillover benefits. We also closed our eyes to the many defects that came with all the mammoth projects. Well, because the PM then was the PM for 22 years, so he should know what he was doing. The defects were cleaned up by the PMs after him and especially DSN had made major improvements to turn the airports into world-class entities, especially in the other states in the country.

Today, however, we are seeing the folly of Tun M’s rule – both times.

The moment he returned to the helm the second time around, abetted by an equally incompetent Cabinet team members who are only interested to plunder and grab whatever they can, it was without doubt Malaysia’s folly.

This week we see the disaster that can happen with an incompetent management team. The Flight Electronic Display System at KLIA and KLIA2 had a major glitch for the past two days. And guess what, the details were written on a few white boards with the baggage and ticketing system all handled manually with passengers at a loss and the terminals are packed and flights delayed. I have never seen such a system, having traveled for the past 60 years, even in some remote, backwater island.

Seriously, during the BN administration when the disappearance of the MH370 and the shooting down of the MH17 were the most major issues to happen anywhere in the world, those catastrophes were handled professionally, albeit a few glitches as Malaysia never had to go through such disasters before.

This then begs the question, is this another ploy to build a brand new airport somewhere so that means more business for cronies? After all, the name Siti Hasmah International Airport is still available and would make a nice parting gift for when the couple leave this world.

It’s Tun and PH waving the magic wand folks, anything is possible. Remember the nationwide major blackout that gave birth to the IPPs and benefitted cronies like YTL while the citizens had to pay premium prices for our electricity supply? Well, this sounds very much like another blackout. Be prepared to hear something during the next Budget presentation.

As the Muslims say: Allahuwaklam.

Hasnah Abd Rahman is a Benar political analyst and a social activist and finds the current situation facing the country rather amusing, albeit terribly worrying.

Note: The views expressed in this post are that of the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the stand of New Malaysia Herald.

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