Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia has appealed for public support for its new low-cost air terminal amid growing protest from critics who feared it may undermine the country's main airport.
AirAsia last week unveiled plans to build and operate a 1.6 billion ringgit ($444 million) low-cost carrier terminal, or LCCT, in Labu in southern Negeri Sembilan state by 2011 with conglomerate Sime Darby.
The new terminal is nearby to the existing budget carrier terminal in Sepang outside of Kuala Lumpur, which AirAsia said was overcrowded and unable to cater to its future needs.
But Malaysia Airports Holdings and other critics objected to the plan on concerns it may threaten growth of the main Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The new terminal, dubbed KLIA-East or the People's Terminal by AirAsia, is located near the main airport and existing budget terminal _ both which are run by Malaysia Airports.
In a statement late Wednesday, AirAsia said the new bigger terminal is crucial to its survival with passenger traffic slated to reach 30 million and its fleet to grow to 184 planes by 2013.
The existing low-cost terminal can only accommodate up to 15 million people and has insufficient aircraft parking bays, it said. AirAsia said it can't move to the main airport due to high charges and fees imposed.
In contrast, the new airport will have an annual capacity of 30 million people when it is ready by 2011 and can be expanded to take more than 50 million, it said.
"Many, if not all, of you know firsthand what it's like using the current LCCT, how cramped and uncomfortable it is," Chief Executive Tony Fernandes said on the company's Web site where it launched an appeal for public support.
"We are also deeply worried that given the number of aircraft we have ordered _ two new planes arrive every month now _ AirAsia and AirAsia X will soon have no room to park the aircraft or gates to operate them from. The new terminal is a matter of life-or-death for us," he said.
AirAsia urged the public to write letters of support to media outlets and lawmakers as well as blogging about it.
But the public has given the project a mixed response so far.
The Minority Shareholder Watchdog Group said Wednesday it feared the new terminal may "cannibalize" the main airport as AirAsia accounts for 16 percent of international traffic and nearly half of domestic traffic.
Aseambankers in a recent report also warned it may be detrimental to split Kuala Lumpur as a destination into two separate airports with Malaysia's annual passenger traffic at only 25 million currently.
The Cabinet has approved the project which is to be funded privately, but Malaysia Airports is lobbying the government to build a new LCCT at a location even closer to the main airport.