May 2, 2014 2:00 pm JST

World's largest discount airline hub opens in Kuala Lumpur

MAYUKO TANI, Nikkei staff writer

The arrival of Malindo Air's flight from Kota Kinabalu highlighted the smooth opening of KLIA2.

KUALA LUMPUR -- Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, the world's largest airport terminal built specifically for low-cost carriers, opened Friday after repeated delays.

     Located in Sepang, Selangor, south of the Malaysian capital, the cost for the terminal ballooned to 4 billion ringgit ($1.22 billion), more than twice the original estimate. The facility is much larger and more comfortable than the old terminal. Dubbed KLIA2, the new terminal aims to capture the fast-growing volume of discount airline flights in Southeast Asia to become the hub for these carriers in the region.

     Malindo Air, an affiliate of Indonesia's largest discount airline, Lion Air, was the first to touch down on the new 4-kilometer runway. When the flight from Kota Kinabalu arrived at 12:08 a.m., after a slight delay, two firetrucks sprayed water on the aircraft to celebrate the opening. The smooth start to the terminal's operations was greeted with relief by Malaysian officials.

     Philippine's Cebu Pacific Air, Lion Air, and Singapore's Tigerair have joined Malindo as the first airlines to use KLIA2. But traffic will pick up significantly when AirAsia Group, Asia's largest discount airline, moves in on May 9, leaving the overcrowded original Low Cost Carrier Terminal. The operator, government-linked Malaysia Airports Holdings, expects daily passenger traffic to hit 50,000 with the addition of AirAsia Group.

     The 257,000-sq.-meter terminal building can handle 45 million passengers a year, more than double the old LCC terminal, which served 21.8 million passengers in 2013. The new facility is fully air conditioned and equipped with jetways that allow passengers to board planes directly without stepping on the tarmac.

     KLIA2 connects to the city center as well as the main air terminal vie express train and has its own air-traffic control tower. Shopping malls and hotels are located nearby.

     Before opening, the new terminal hit some bumps along the way. The cost of the project doubled due to design changes and delays in construction. There were also safety concerns that were not fully resolved until last month. The industry is watching closely to see whether Malaysian Airports Holdings can run the terminal efficiently and make it profitable by attracting airlines and passengers.