US market underserved from Malaysia; MAS’ oneworld membership raises hopes for BA and Qantas

30-second interview: Tan Sri Bashir Ahmad,
Managing Director & CEO, Malaysia Airports

With full-service Malaysia Airlines joining oneworld and LCC AirAsia being allowed to grow further in a permanent low-cost terminal from next year, Malaysia Airports’ CEO Tan Sri Bashir Ahmad has interesting ambitions for both market segments to reveal to’s Ryan Ghee.

The Malaysian air transport market has been leading the growth in Southeast Asia for quite some time, but there are changes to the country’s aviation landscape on the horizon with the partnership between the country’s two main airlines; Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia.’s Ryan Ghee spoke to Tan Sri Bashir Ahmad, Managing Director and CEO of Malaysia Airports Holdings, in Kuala Lumpur about the route development opportunities and challenges the airport group is facing. What opportunities do you see in Malaysia Airlines’ future oneworld membership? Kuala Lumpur is currently only served by three members of the alliance; JAL (Japan Airlines), Cathay Pacific and Royal Jordanian. Are you working on attracting more with connectivity opportunities?

Tan Sri Bashir: As Malaysia Airlines joins the oneworld alliance, we would expect and hope to see more members of the oneworld alliance looking at opportunities at Kuala Lumpur to enhance their working relationship with Malaysia Airlines. We hope that the likes of British Airways and Qantas will look into focusing services to Kuala Lumpur. Even without MAS joining the oneworld alliance, we have been talking to Qantas and BA over the years and they have expressed an interest in KL, so maybe this will give them the impetus to do so. Kuala Lumpur International Airport is only connected with a limited number of European destinations. What is being done to fill this gap in the airport’s route network?

Tan Sri Bashir: At the moment, we have KLM and Lufthansa operating here. It would be nice for us to have airlines like Air France or Alitalia or even SAS operating in Kuala Lumpur, and of course, I’ve mentioned BA as well. We are continuing discussions with these airlines and we hope they will come back to Kuala Lumpur, but it also depends on the market potential between Europe and KL.

We are seeing increasing numbers of travellers between Europe and Malaysia, so hopefully the numbers will be sufficient for these airlines to consider coming back to Kuala Lumpur. Which other key markets are unserved or underserved from Malaysian airports?

Tan Sri Bashir: Except for the US, I think we are quite well served, to the growth markets especially. We are well connected to growth markets like China, Middle East, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, so we have seen a huge growth in capacity from these countries. How are you working to develop new routes in and out of Malaysia’s regional airports?

Tan Sri Bashir: We have a very liberal aviation policy and the government encourages foreign airlines to operate to any point in Malaysia, any international gateway. So we also encourage airlines to operate to our other gateways like Langkawi, Penang, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. Langkawi is doing quite well in the form of charters and we have seen an increase in the number of international passengers at Penang Airport. Kota Kinabalu has done very well to attract [air services from] a lot of regional airports and hopefully the same will happen for Kuching, as Kuching is aggressively promoting the state. When is the new, permanent low-cost terminal klia2 going to be completed? Is the new terminal mostly expected to allow AirAsia grow, or will you seek to attract more LCCs to Kuala Lumpur?

Tan Sri Bashir: The target to open klia2 is end of April 2013. Essentially, it will allow the growth of all low-cost air travel. AirAsia is the proponent of low fare travel in Malaysia and this region, so obviously they will be the biggest operator at klia2 and we welcome them to do that. Of course, we will also welcome other airlines and there is enough capacity for everyone to grow. We have the likes of Jetstar, Tiger Airways and Cebu Pacific operating from KLIA, so they could possibly transfer over their operations.


  1. I think KLIA could become a regional hub for most of Southeast Asia since they are somewhat centrally located. But they need more direct routing from the major U.S. west coast hubs such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver, Canada.

  2. There’s tremendous room for KLIA to outgrow its current competitors save for Singapore’s Changi. I think Air Asia did a fantastic job in promoting Malaysia as the place to visit and transit, and we’re experiencing ripple effect from this. Though interestingly, I would like to see the effect it will have once AirAsia stops its services to Paris and London this year.

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