MAHB’s record profits come at a cost to the Malaysian economy and tourism industry

KUALA LUMPUR, 19 December 2018 - Against a backdrop of a challenging economy and falling profitability in corporate Malaysia, Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) won a major Malaysian award last week, topping billion ringgit companies for giving its shareholders the best three-year returns in its class.

MAHB’s net profit more than tripled in 2017 to RM237 million from RM73 million in 2016 - itself nearly double from RM40 million in 2015 - and it is set to break yet another record this year.

In the write-up that accompanied the award, the sharp increase in profits was attributed to two reasons: an increase in Passenger Service Charge (PSC) and growth in passenger numbers coming through its airports.

The write-up unabashedly stated that MAHB owed its vastly improved performance to its structural dominance and described MAHB as a structural monopoly.

Kudos to MAHB. But then, it is not difficult to keep showing such numbers when you are a monopoly.

Nevertheless, unjustified price increases, such as the PSC hike imposed by MAHB, will lead to unintended consequences when its clients, who have no choice but to use its services, are eventually squeezed out of business. Then, everything will collapse – Malaysia’s tourism arrivals, billions in tourism receipts and revenues to MAHB's own coffers (a fact it has failed to acknowledge).

MAHB rewards itself with excessive monopoly profits, yet it provides the Malaysian public with embarrassingly low service levels.

AirAsia X Malaysia CEO Benyamin Ismail said, “In addition to the RM50 PSC it already imposes, MAHB is now demanding an additional RM23 from each passenger travelling through klia2. The millions of passengers departing from klia2, more than 90 percent of whom fly with AirAsia, will attest to the long walks they have had to endure to reach their gates in what is a passenger-unfriendly airport with inferior facilities yet unjustified high charges.

“Furthermore, since klia2 opened, there have been constant flight disruptions and cancellations due to major apron and runway defects, unscheduled closure of runways, ponding of water on the best of days and fuel pipeline ruptures.

“We were sued after we refused to collect the extra RM23 that MAHB has imposed for the sole benefit of its shareholders. We will vigorously fight this suit. We will not be part of this scheme to burden the travelling public by making them pay more for below par services.”

Benyamin added that while the operating results of klia2 itself were not immediately apparent, AirAsia estimates that MAHB’s returns on capital are well in excess of the level of the cost of capital set by regulators.

AirAsia Malaysia CEO Riad Asmat said, “The overall tourism sector, one of Malaysia’s biggest revenue earners, and the interests of millions of Malaysians who have been able to fly because of the low fares pioneered by AirAsia, are being threatened by MAHB’s price hikes. We urge the regulators and policy makers to rebuff this unfair and unreasonable attempt by MAHB to use its monopoly to enrich itself further by revisiting and rescinding the decision to raise the PSC.

“MAHB has argued it needs more profits to operate smaller loss-making airports on behalf of the government, but it is obvious from its exponential growth in profits over the last three years - even after taking into account losses in its Turkish operations - that this is not the case.

“The additional RM23 to be collected will amount to more than RM100 million a year that will go straight to MAHB’s bottom line rather than to the government. MAHB will continue to be among the most profitable Malaysian companies for many years to come. But this will come at a cost to the wider Malaysian economy and at the expense of engines of growth such as AirAsia and AirAsia X.”

Riad also referred to MAHB’s defence of its decision to charge the extra RM23 in PSC from each travelling passenger, saying it is “bound by Article 15 of the Chicago Convention of 1944.”

“This would almost be laughable if it were not so serious. MAHB is falling back on a convention ratified in 1944, when Japan still ruled Malaya and when Frank Whittle was testing the jet engine and when only the well-heeled could fly.

“For all these reasons, we shall not accede to MAHB’s demands and we will take our battle both to the people and to the court of law.”