Malaysia this week will open what it calls the world’s largest airport built specifically for low-cost airlines, a project driven by budget travel’s phenomenal growth but which debuts under the shadow of missing flight MH370.
The $US1.2 billion ($A1.3 billion) facility near the main Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) was originally targeted to open three years ago but has been hit by repeated delays, amid concerns over safety and subpar construction, even as costs have doubled.
The new KLIA2 budget terminal will begin operations Friday with an initial 56 flights, increasing the load as airlines move full operations over from a nearby existing facility in coming days.
Analysts and the travelling public agree the opening of a new budget terminal is long overdue.
The current low-cost terminal is a cramped and bare-bones facility that resembles a bus station. Capacity is 15 million passengers, but about 22 million squeezed through last year.
The gleaming KLIA2 meanwhile covers an area equal to 24 football fields, authorities said, about four times the size of the facility it is replacing.
Its modern design features soaring ceilings, natural lighting, people-mover belts and improved connectivity with access to an existing express airport train to Kuala Lumpur 50 kilometres away.
Malaysia-based Malindo Air, the Philippines’ Cebu Pacific Air, Singapore’s Tiger Airways, and Indonesia’s Lion Air and Mandala Airlines will begin initial operations there Friday.
Regional low-cost leader AirAsia plans to join them by May 9, when the old terminal is due to close.
About 24 million passengers are expected to pass through KLIA2 in the first 12 months, and annual capacity is 45 million. Current capacity at the main KLIA terminal is roughly 40 million, but expansion plans are in the works.
But the still-unexplained March 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which took off from the main KLIA, has raised worldwide concern over Malaysian aviation and focused attention on KLIA2’s problems.
MH370 has cast a cloud over hopes of increasing fast-growing arrivals from China, Malaysia’s third-largest source of tourists.
Two-thirds of the 239 people on MH370 were from China and tens of thousands of Chinese have cancelled plans to visit.