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Thursday, July 2, 1998 Published at 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Malaysia's airport woes

Muslims pray on a flight to mark the inauguration of the new airport

Chaos and long waits are continuing at Malaysia's brand-new airport, as its communications system crashed immediately after it was opened to passengers.

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang says the project was rushed to beat the opening of Hong Kong's new airport
The $2.3 bn Kuala Lumpur International Airport took over from the 33-year-old Subang airport on Tuesday but a computer failure has been delaying flights and causing luggage chaos.

Arriving passengers have had to wait up to three hours for their luggage, even though relief staff were called in to manually load baggage from the tarmac to baggage carriers.

Airport staff have had to check in passengers manually, filling out boarding passes with pens - a process that could take up to an estimated three hours for a 400-passenger jumbo jet.

Monitors with flight times, gates and airport directions have been flashing on and off throughout the day, officials said.

Faulty phone lines to blame

On Thursday, faulty phone lines were identified as the cause of system failures.

Transport Minister Ling Liong Sik said contractors had not installed communication lines properly at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

"We expect the instability in the lines of communication to happen again but it will be less and less as we go along," Mr Ling said.

The airport, thought to be the world's biggest and most modern, is run by a $175m database that links all operations, from baggage handling to information monitors.

'From national pride to national concern'

The sleek new 10,000-hectare airport was designed to put Malaysia on the international map and help it compete with Bangkok and Singapore as an international aviation centre.

Malaysian opposition leader Lim Kit Siang has severely criticised Transport Minister Ling for his failure to grasp the problems at the airport. He said the problems have been caused by bad management and decision-making.

"All this because the opening was rushed when it was not ready, just to score the cheap and irrelevant point of being one week ahead of the official opening of the new Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong," he said.

Local papers, that are not usually critical of government projects, have also been harsh on the new airport.

The New Straits Times, in an editorial, said the airport should not have been opened before it was properly tested.

"It is rare for a symbol of national pride to transform itself to a source of national concern within the short span of two days," it said.

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