Monday, April 22

The airport woes


OVER the past three weeks, I had spent some 19 hours at Kuching International Airport and Sibu Airport, waiting to board MASwings flights which had been rescheduled.

Yes, the airlines have found a new term to avoid using the negative word “delay,” replacing it with euphemistical language such as rescheduled or retimed. Probably, the word “delay” is suitable only for flights that have been held back for a duration of minutes or an hour or two.

You can gloriously declare a re-time and reconcile it with all the sugar-coated justifications when the flight finally takes off – eight hours behind the scheduled time!

The frequent travellers between Sibu and Kuching are probably used to such delays. The fact is that this kind of waiting game has been going on for at least three months and has apparently been accepted as the norm as a matter of course.

Therefore, not surprisingly, no readers have contacted the press to complain nor have the airport woes made their rounds on social media or in coffeeshops – until some passengers thought “enough is enough” and made a media complaint, prompting a newsroom call to the MASwings CEO, Captain Ritzerwan, for comment.

“These delays were caused by aircraft experiencing technical problems and the situation has become worse due to the consequential effect when more aircraft experience technical defects,” he explained.


He also said initially, only one or two aircraft experienced technical problems but when they were under repairs, other aircraft had to be used more frequently to cover the routes, resulting in more aircraft breaking down.

As far as I know, Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB) ordered 10 ATR from France for MASwings to cover the Sarawak-Sabah sector. I covered the handover of the 10th aircraft in Toulouse in 2010 together with my Sabah counterparts.

According to Ritzerwan, nine of the aircraft are serving Sarawak and Sabah, bringing into focus the possibility that MAB could either have assigned one of the planes elsewhere or there has been a jumping of numbers, counting from one to 10.

What is alarming is that within barely 10 years, we have five aircraft requiring repairs all in one day, and MAB or MASwings have yet to identify what is the problem. And incidentally, for technical problems, MASwings has to refer to MAB and the aircraft manufacturer.

Of course, I am not dissing. Even the CEO does not know whether the problem could be solved in days, months or even years.

During the delays I went through, the passengers were great – being patient, understanding and gracious in accepting meal vouchers without making a lot of demands. Otherwise, we would have clips of video footage such as the one that went viral, showing an opposition lawmaker creating a scene with the police at KIA.

Did you miss that video? Probably not since it has been viewed and shared online by tens of thousands. If you had been stuck at the airport for some 19 hours, I dare say this video could have found its way to your smart phones or tablets!

Based on the video footage that went viral, the DAP MP, accompanied by a colleague, who is also a YB, conveniently flashed his authorisation tag and hollered impatiently: “I am a YB, I am telling you now … you tak faham apa yang saya cakap ni, saya YB kawasan ini.”

He kept repeating he is the YB of a certain kawasan and harping on the privileges and “special rights” he is entitled to as the “YB Parlimen kawasan ini, tertakluk pada akta parlimen, saya boleh menjalan tugas saya.”

It is an eye opener as to how our YBs behave. The opposition lawmakers and supporters have been accusing the power-to-be of abusing their powers at almost every available opportunity.

We know airport safety and security cannot be compromised just to accommodate and please some YBs or VIPs, and given the current global concerns over aviation security, no such demands, for whatever reasons, can hope to garner public sympathy.

A good example is the latest airport controversy in Hong Kong over a reported airport baggage incident, involving the First Family, which shot Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying into the headlines.

Leung has been accused of using his influence to bypass airport security regulations so that his daughter could have a misplaced carry-on bag delivered to her at the boarding gate.

According to Apple Daily last week, the airport staff handed a bag to Leung’s daughter inside the restricted zone at the terminal after they were informed she had left the item by mistake in the check-in area.

The airport staff made an exception after getting a call from the Chief Executive who allegedly put pressure on the airline staff by reminding them of his official position.

Ostensibly, what this suggests is that even Leung, the top man in the former British colony, is vulnerable to the charge of misusing his power.

Has the YB in the video been trying to misuse his power and position? I wonder if Leung or the YB had emerged unscathed in terms of damage to their reputation.

One can sympathise with the YB’s desire to meet his colleague who was barred from entering the state, and likewise, with Leung’s desire to help his daughter out but these so-called honourable people should have known where to draw the line!

May I suggest to the “MP Parlimen kawasan ini” to initiate a probe into the root cause of the exasperating long flight delays that are compelling passengers to wait out long agonising hours at the airport.

In the parliament, please ask how much the government is giving MAB to operate rural air services in Sarawak and how much of this amount is actually channelled for such a purpose?

The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) had on Monday justified a proposal to increase the airline operator fee tenfold as a necessity to transfer the federal agency to a proper authority.

According to its director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, DCA spends around RM250 million a year regulating Malaysian airspace but only makes RM50 million in revenue, leaving a shortfall of RM200 million that requires the agency to seek additional funding from Putrajaya.

This proposed hike will see the ballooning of airline operation costs, and eventually lead to costlier airfares that will burn a bigger hole in the pockets of the travelling public.

Yes, honourable YB, will you flash your “all-powerful” authorisation card and demand solutions to all these problems?

In fact, your Ubah father who was barred from entering the state had received good treatment from the airport immigration staff. He was, at least, happy with the “chicken rice” served.