BEAT, AirAsia, MAHB and Aerobridges at KLIA2

The Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) held a protest at Taman Jaya in Petaling Jaya yesterday (The Star – Group wants aerobridges at KLIA 2 – October 24, 2011) against the omission of aerobridges at KLIA2. BEAT is a cross-disability coalition with representation from disabled persons organisations (DPO) based in the Klang Valley. According to the group, the protest was “to reaffirm our call for aerobridges to be installed at KLIA2 for the safety, security and comfort of all passengers including disabled persons, elderly, children, pregnant women, parents with children in prams.” The first protest on the same issue was held at Bangsar LRT station on August 20, 2011.

I wholeheartedly support the call for aerobridges at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2). Currently, people with mobility limitations board aircrafts at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT-KLIA) using passenger boarding lift (ambulift) or have to be carried up the boarding stairs. AirAsia passengers who need to use the lift have to inform the airline 48 hours in advance failing which boarding could be denied. There is only one such lift at the LCCT-KLIA for this purpose.

The passenger boarding lift may not be available at all times. It could unavailable because it is being used for boarding at another aircraft at the same time. It could also be due to breakdown or maintenance. When this happens, disabled passengers have to be carried up the boarding stairs via the side-by-side two-person lift method. In my experience, this is not a safe way to board the plane or disembark from it. The steps of the boarding stairs are narrow and slippery. There are many things that could go wrong. The lifters may not have the skills for such lifting. They could lose their grip or lose their footing on the steps. One of them could lose strength on the way up.

I have been carried three times up and three time down like this and each time the fear of the three of us falling off the stairs overwhelmed me. There was one time when I was nearly dropped. The lifters, after hauling me up the stairs and into the aircraft, could not find a place to sit me down. They were exhausted and were fast losing their grip. Fortunately, a cabin crew quickly directed them to use the jump seat. Experiences like this are really not a good way to begin or end the journey with.

The aerobridge or passenger boarding bridge or jet bridge, is safe, convenient and comfortable to board and disembark from aircrafts. They protect passengers from the element, be it rain or shine. There is no need for passengers to huff and puff up the stairs with their luggages, children in tow or baby prams. The aerobridge makes it convenient for children and senior citizens without them having to climb up the stairs. It is a good example of universal design of facilities that benefit everyone.

The decision by Malaysia Airport Holdings Berhad (MAHB) not to install the aerobridges stemmed from AirAsia’s resistance in using them. The budget airline’s business model requires a quick 25-minute turnaround time for its aircrafts and no-frills service. Using aerobridges would purportedly increase the turnaround time and increase the airfare.

MAHB has revealed that it charges RM85 for the use of each aerobridge. Based on the full load of an Airbus A320 with 180 passengers, this translates to a mere 25 sen per passenger for an arriving and departing flight. MAHB stated that the design of the KLIA2 has provisions to accommodate the installation of aerobridges at any time when required AirAsia or other low-cost carriers (LCC).

While I support BEAT’s call for the installation of aerobridges at the KLIA2, I am of the opinion that the protest against MAHB was misdirected. True, MAHB is bending backwards by giving exemption to AirAsia for not using aerobridges. MAHB should be faulted for this but looking at the big picture, AirAsia is ultimately the source of this issue.

AirAsia and AirAsia X are the major airlines using the KLIA2. It makes no business sense for MAHB to install the 80 aerobridges at the cost of RM104 million if they are not going to be used. Each aerobridge costs RM1.3 million. It must be noted that AirAsia and AirAsia X are compelled to use aerobridges in foreign airports where no exemption is given for them not to.

BEAT has established a working relationship with AirAsia after the protest at the LCCT-KLIA in 2007. Its members conduct regular trainings for the airline’s cabin crew and ground crew in support and services for disabled passengers. BEAT also holds dialogues with the management of the airline on related issues. Therefore, BEAT should use its relationship and influence to advocate to AirAsia on the pertinent need for aerobridges at KLIA2.

In fact, I was involved in a five-day Training of Trainers for AirAsia Disability Equality Training (DET) and Disability Related Service Training (DRST) at AirAsia Academy that concluded last Friday. This five-day course was organised by BEAT under the auspices of AirAsia to equip disabled trainers from Indonesia and Thailand with the same methodology and modules for them to train AirAsia staff in their respective countries. To AirAsia’s credit, it is expanding the training for the ground crew and cabin crew in countries where it has a presence in order for disabled passengers to be better served.

On the contrary, in deciding not to use aerobridges at KLIA2, AirAsia has taken several steps backward. It is a shame that the most modern purpose-built low cost carrier terminal that costs more than RM2 billion will require passengers walk out on the tarmac and use boarding stairs. Even the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) and the Board of Airline Representatives were of the view that KLIA2 neeeds to have aerobridges, as reported in The Edge (Provisions made for aerobridges at KLIA2, Dewan Rakyat told – October 17, 2011).

Instead of taking AirAsia to task over this matter, BEAT has chosen to demonise MAHB instead. The root cause of this issue is glaringly not pointed out. There was little mention of AirAsia in the two protests. Why is BEAT playing tai chi here? Why is BEAT not grabbing the bull by the horns? Why is BEAT beating around the bush? Why has BEAT failed to advocate effectively to AirAsia on the need for aerobridges? These are questions begging answers.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. Columnist of Breaking Barriers in The Borneo Post. Principal Trainer at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.