MAHB passenger chart LIKE it or not, the coronavirus (Covid-19) is here to stay, at least for the time being. Among all the businesses that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on, it is to no surprise that the aviation industry has been hit the hardest. With travel and movement restrictions imposed by governments on top of national border closures, airlines and airport operators were hit with almost no activity from the end of March until May. When times are bad like this, cash is truly king as it determines the survivability of a company when it starts burning at a rate higher than it can generate. And in the case of MALAYSIA AIRPORTS HOLDINGS BHD (MAHB), which manages 39 airports in Malaysia, including five international airports, failure is not an option. The operator has since gone down the path of an 18-month aggressive cost optimisation plan to preserve its cash. The group has utilised around RM400mil from its cash reserves in the first quarter of the year, which saw its cash position declining from RM3.2bil as at Dec 31,2019 to RM2.8bil as of March 31,2020. This is still an ample amount of cash for MAHB but to ensure that it has deep enough liquidity to roll in, the group has another RM3.2bil ready for them to use in the form of a RM1.7bil credit line and an untapped sukuk facility with a RM1.5bil ceiling. As much as it could, the group will be using its own internal cash flow before it decides to tap on the available resources. The credit line is readily available for MAHB to drawdown anytime while the group is confident about its sukuk should it need to carry out an issuance because it is rated AAA with a stable outlook. Covid-19 impact Either a double-edged sword or a blessing in disguise, Covid-19 has definitely carved out a window for MAHB which allows it to take a step back to review and put on hold major development projects. This saw the group slashing 82.22% of its 2020 capital expenditure from RM1.8bil to only RM320mil, the bulk of which includes major development plans such as the Penang International Airport (PIA) expansion. The expansion of the northern airport is to the tune of RM1bil but the portion that was initially allocated this year was only around RM20mil because it is still at the preliminary stage. MAHB usually plans for airport expansions when it reaches a utilisation rate of 80% Looking at how Covid-19 is affecting passenger movement at airports, this gives MAHB a bit of time to monitor the current situation before activating its expansion plans again. Taking cognisance of the severity of the pandemic, the group arrived at a substantially reduced capex of RM320mil which comprises critical projects of replacing ageing assets and systems. Looking at how demand and passenger traffic would not be returning to normalcy anytime within the short to medium term, it could not have been a better time for MAHB to carry out the upgrading works with minimal disruptions. This includes replacing the replacement of its aerotrains and baggage handling system, runway rehabilitation, toilet refurbishment and commercial reset, which will proceed in phases to ensure the readiness of the airport once traffic resumes to normal. Digital agenda Prior to the pandemic, MAHB began embarking on a digitalisation journey with the Airports 4.0 initiative with the aim to provide a better experience for its passengers. Again, taking advantage of the slower business due to the pandemic, the group expedited many initiatives for a more seamless and contactless experience moving forward as it recovers from the pandemic. Group chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Shukrie Mohd Salleh(pic above) told a post-AGM briefing that the company,
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