Despite implementing aggressive cost containment measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, Malaysia Airports is going ahead with the replacement of its ageing assets at KL International Airport (KLIA) as they are critical to the recovery of the national aviation industry.
As air travel gradually return to normal, the aviation industry will have to gear up to cater to the new normal. There will be a high dependency on automation and technology to keep the travelling public safe as the world waits for an effective vaccine. These mission critical upgrades mean that KLIA is ensuring that it is well-prepared for the post COVID-19 new normal, equipped with enhanced services and standards.
The slowdown period is also the perfect opportunity to perform these critical upgrades as it will cause less disruption to airport and airline operations, as well as passenger comfort.
In the next two to three years, KLIA will be upgrading its baggage handling system (BHS), replacing the Aerotrains and completing its washroom refurbishment at its Main terminal.
Modernising the BHS will streamline and enable seamless integration between baggage screening, transportation, sortation, and storage operations. Among others, it will have an ultra high-speed motor that will speed up the current average baggage travelling time and enable faster screening and sorting. The newer technology will improve baggage throughput process resulting in higher volume that can be processed and reduce the waiting time for baggage reclaim process for a better experience.
Over the last 20 years, the terminal’s BHS has been maintained through regular parts replacement programmes in the recommended three to five-year cycles, including sub-system upgrades and modifications to keep up with growing passenger traffic at the airport. Recent sub-system upgrades include merging two carousels into one to lessen the crowding at the baggage reclaim area, particularly for wide body flights which carry larger number of passengers. Last year, the system handled a daily average of 58,000 bags.
The new BHS is also part of the airport operator’s Airports 4.0 journey where the goal is to improve operational efficiency through the use of technology. Baggage tracking and tracing will be improved throughout the entire handling process using the latest BHS screening technology which means that security at the airport will improve and there will be less disruption to flight operations in the event of a suspicious baggage.
Through improved interfacing between BHS and the ground handling agents, real-time information and data analytics will be shared more seamlessly between the two parties. This will also allow the airport to monitor service levels better and reduce the risk of mishandled baggage or what is termed as short shipment within the aviation industry.
KLIA already has a low short shipment index when benchmarked against the regional index reported in the baggage report by SITA, the technology provider for the air transport industry. In fact, since the rollout of the Malaysian Aviation Commission’s (MAVCOM) Quality of Service (QoS) target for short shipment mid last year, KLIA has been consistently meeting the set target from the month of September onwards. It is expected that the new BHS will improve its performance even further.
Creating sustainable and modernised baggage operations that can grow seamlessly alongside the airport’s needs will pave the way for quicker, smoother baggage handling and delivery. Passenger experience will vastly improve, as will operational efficiencies for current and prospective airline partners.
The replacement of the BHS is an opportunity for Malaysia Airports to future proof the airport. This overhaul of KLIA’s baggage network will make the system more resilient. The BHS replacement plan is scheduled to commence towards the end of 2020 and will take several years to complete.
Concurrent with the BHS upgrade, the terminal’s ageing Aerotrains which connect the main terminal building to the satellite will be replaced. The replacement will involve increasing the Aerotrain’s current three-car capacity, upgrading signalling systems and carrying out structural rehabilitation of the train’s elevated tracks. The increased capacity is expected to significantly reduce the congestion at the Aerotrain boarding areas and in the Aerotrains themselves. Currently, the Aerotrain shuttles passengers between the terminal buildings with a travel time of 2.5 minutes. The new trains and system will improve this number due to its increased capacity.
Each train car will be monitored through high definition CCTV for tighter security. There will be multipurpose display screens to keep passengers informed of flight information, public service announcements and commercial retail promotions.
Additionally, the latest digital train signalling technology will be installed so that there will be seamless integration of all train functions using automation. This allows for higher control accuracies on train frequencies, vehicle speeds and precise alignment of platform stops and door shutters thus reducing the risk of abnormal operations occurring to the trains. The new technology also dovetails well with KLIA’s green airport initiatives by reducing carbon emissions resulting from its operation.
Not only will the new Aerotrains’ larger capacity enhance passenger comfort, it will also allow the airport to cater to the new normal by ensuring adequate social distancing.
In addition to BHS and Aerotrains, the airport is intensifying efforts to uphold world-class standards in the management of its hygiene facilities, specifically its washroom facilities. This will be well received by airport visitors, as hygiene concerns have been amplified due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Since June 2017, the airport operator has rolled out a major washroom refurbishment programme to revamp the functionality and ambience of KLIA Main terminal’s 225 washrooms which include 132 passenger washrooms and 93 staff washrooms. The programme is still on-going, with 131 washrooms successfully refurbished and another 94 to be completed by June next year. Subsequently, 102 washrooms at the airport’s second terminal, klia2, will also be refurbished in phases over the next two to three years.
Among the newly improved sanitisation features installed include individual hand dryers, anti-cockroach and odour floor trap, and individual ventilation for every cubicle to allow for better air circulation. There will also be automated air sterilisers, sealed washroom drains as well as an upgraded plumbing system with backflow valves to prevent reverse flows of aerosolised wastes.
Low energy lights will be used in all the washrooms with sensors, movement detectors and timers to automatically dim or switch off lighting where not required.
Look and feel wise, the washrooms will have a fresh design with premium sanitary fittings. Every aspect will be reviewed and improved from the janitor room, vanity mirror and washbasin down to the smallest details such as entrance statement, planter box and cubical height.
These washroom refurbishments are in line with the QoS Framework outlined by MAVCOM.
Currently, Malaysia Airports has 600 cleaning staff who look after the cleanliness of the washrooms, supported by a real-time washroom management system. Leveraging on technology, these washrooms are also fitted with a convenient way for guests to provide feedback on washroom conditions via QR (quick response) code. The feedback is immediately directed to the personnel in charge for quick rectification. Any feedback must be attended to within 10 minutes by the staff in charge who is on duty round the clock.
Since these efforts have been put in place, the airport has seen very encouraging reduction in washroom complaints which reduced by an astounding 93% last year compared to 2018. KLIA also won the ASEAN Public Toilet Standard 2019-2021 award, achieving top marks in the ASEAN public toilet category.