Kuala Lumpur traffic doubles in nine years; passed 50 million in 2016 as AirAsia Group and Malaysia Airlines account for over 70% of demand

AirAsia X launches Kuala Lumpur to Wuhan route

AirAsia’s long-haul subsidiary AirAsia X continues to develop its network from Kuala Lumpur. On 22 March it began flights to Wuhan in China, a destination not previously served non-stop from Kuala Lumpur. According to OAG data the airline currently serves 22 destinations non-stop from the Malaysian capital. At the end of June it will start serving Honolulu (via Osaka Kansai) with four weekly flights. There are currently no non-stop flights to any US destinations from Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport, which hosts next week’s 140th IATA Slot Conference, reached a significant milestone in 2016 when it passed the 50 million passenger mark for the first time. Demand reached 52.6 million, an increase of 7.6% compared with the previous year. Growth was particularly strong in the second half of the year with double-digit growth in five of the last six months of 2016. As a result, passenger numbers have virtually doubled at the airport in the last nine years. Back in 2007, the facility handled 26.4 million passengers. Since then demand has grown every year with impressive double-digit growth in 2013 (+19.1%), 2010 (+14.8%) and 2011 (+10.6%).

Kuala Lumpur traffic 2007 to 2016

Source: Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad.

In the first quarter of 2017, the impressive growth seen in the back half of last year has continued, with the passenger count up 12.5% to 14.1 million in the period January through March, despite February reverting back to just 28 days this year compared with 29 in 2016.

The airport’s seasonality profile is impressively flat. Using anna.aero’s Seasonal Variation In Demand (SVID) calculator KL scores an “excellent” 0.53 in both 2014 and 2015, and a still “excellent” 0.77 in 2016. The airport’s busiest month in each of the last three years has been December. Last December the airport set a new all-time record, processing 5.3 million passengers, the first time the airport had ever handled more than five million passengers in a single month.

AirAsia group of airlines and Malaysia Airlines account for 73% of traffic

According to airport authority statistics, local carriers AirAsia (36.1%) and Malaysia Airlines (25.6%) between them accounted for almost 62% of all passengers in Kuala Lumpur. If we include all the members of the AirAsia Group that figure rises to 73%, with the home-based LCC’s portfolio of carriers transporting just over 47% of all passengers passing through the airport.

Kuala Lumpur top 10 airlines in 2016

Source: Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad.

There are three main carriers operating domestic services from KL, with Malindo Air (the Malaysian joint venture subsidiary of Indonesia’s Lion Air) the fastest-growing. The 1.4 million passengers it flew in 2016 on domestic sectors from KL represented 71% growth compared with 2015. It also grew its international traffic at the airport by almost 70% to just under 2.5 million passengers.

According to the airport’s annual report for 2016, the fastest-growing international airlines at the airport in 2016 were Air China (+458% to 77,000), AirAsia X Indonesia (+308% to 507,000), All Nippon Airways (+258% to 170,000) and Mahan Air (+107% to 91,000). Completely new carriers to KL in 2016 included VietJetAir, which began daily flights from Ho Chi Minh City in June 2016, and Shenzhen Airlines. The Chinese carrier began flights to KL from its home base of Shenzhen on 9 December.

Singapore is busiest international route

The airport’s busiest international route by some distance is Singapore. The short, 296-kilometre sector, was flown by over 3.8 million people in 2016, an increase of 8.1% compared with 2015. This route was 80% busier than the number two route to Jakarta in Indonesia. Competition on the Singapore route is intense with AirAsia, Jetstar Asia, Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Air, SilkAir and Singapore Airlines all offering multiple daily flights between the two regional hubs.

Kuala Lumpur top 15 routes in 2016

Source: Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad.

Of the top 15 destinations only three did not see an increase in demand in 2016; Phuket traffic was down 0.3%, Melbourne passengers reduced by just under 2%, and Guangzhou traffic fell by almost 6%. Conversely, there was double-digit growth on routes to Hong Kong and Taipei (both up 11%), Ho Chi Minh City (+16%) and Seoul (+19%).

Many new routes from Kuala Lumpur already launched in 2017

Kuala Lumpur continues to welcome many new services in 2017 with over a dozen having already launched in the first five months of 2017. Nine different carriers have been responsible for these launches which have been spread across destinations in eight different countries.

Launch date Airline Destination Country Aircraft (WF)
23 January Lucky Air Kunming (KMG) China B738 (4)
10 February Himalaya Airlines Kathmandu (KTM) Nepal A320 (5)
21 February Malindo Air Jeddah (JED) Saudi Arabia B739 (2)
22 February Lion Air Solo (SOC) Indonesia B738 (7)
23 February Surabaya (SUB)
1 March Cathay Dragon Hong Kong (HKG) Hong Kong A333 (14)
2 March US-Bangla Airlines Dhaka (DAC) Bangladesh B738 (5)
15 March Malindo Air Guangzhou (CAN) China B738 (7)
22 March AirAsia X Wuhan (WUH) A333 (7)
26 March Malaysia Airlines Haikou (HAK) B738 (2)
30 March Malindo Air Chittagong (CGP) Bangladesh B738 (3)
3 April Yangon (RGN) Myanmar B738 (4)
26 April AirAsia Bhubaneswar (BBI) India A320 (4)
19 May AirAsia X Mumbai (BOM) A333 (7)
24 May Lion Air Medan (KNO) Indonesia B738 (7)
Source: anna.aero’s New Route Database.

Looking further ahead, Malaysia Airlines is planning to grow significantly in the Chinese market with new routes planned before the end of 2017 to Chengdu, Chongqing, Fuzhou, Nanjing and Wuhan. Another significant event will take place on 28 June, when AirAsia X will finally launch its much anticipated new service to the US. This will be a four times weekly service to Honolulu in Hawaii, via Osaka Kansai in Japan and will be flown using its A330-300s. Direct, non-stop flights to the US from Kuala Lumpur are a challenge as the sector length to San Francisco, the nearest major gateway, is over 13,600 kilometres. However, both Singapore Airlines and United Airlines offer daily flights to San Francisco from nearby Singapore with a similar sector length.

While US flights remain a challenge, Kuala Lumpur does have direct flights to three main European hubs; Amsterdam (with KLM), Istanbul Atatürk (with Turkish Airlines) and London Heathrow (with both British Airways and Malaysia Airlines). Not surprisingly, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways all have multiple daily flights to their hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha.

Lucky Air launches Kunming to Kuala Lumpur route

Lucky Air became the latest Chinese airline to serve Kuala Lumpur when it began twice-weekly flights from Kunming on 23 January 2017. The route is already served by AirAsia with daily flights.


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