August 1st

AIRSHOW GUIDE: LIMA

AIRSHOW GUIDE: LIMA

GUIDE BY ADAM LANDAU | PHOTOS BY TOM WITTEVRONGEL

The Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) is one of the most consistently fascinating and high-quality airshows in Asia. Founded in 1991, it was in 2015 when LIMA truly captured the attention of most enthusiasts, with a line up including such rarities as August 1st, Al Fursan and the Black Knights. Top form was maintained in 2017 (Russian Knights and Black Eagles) and 2019 (Black Eagles, HAL Tejas and RMAF Tactical Display Team).

But as with all events in the region, information is often lacking and aspects of the show’s organisation are unpredictable, bordering on bizzare. In this guide, we will explain the workings of the event, how to navigate it, where to find the best viewing spots and share some insider tips to help you make the most enjoyable visit possible.

Time Event Access Location
Tuesday 8:00-08:30 Opening Ceremony air display Invitation MIEC
Tuesday 10:00-12:00 Maritime demonstration Public RWL
Tuesday 12:00-14:30 Opening flypasts & aerial display Invitation MIEC
Wednesday 10:00-12:00 Maritime demonstration Public RWL
Wednesday 12:30-14:30 Aerial display Trade MIEC
Wednesday 17:00-18:00 Maritime demonstration Public RWL
Thursday 10:00-12:00 Maritime demonstration Public RWL
Thursday 12:30-14:30 Aerial display Trade MIEC
Thursday 17:00-18:00 Maritime demonstration Public RWL
Friday 10:00-12:00 Aerial display Public MIEC
Friday 10:00-12:00 Maritime demonstration Public RWL
Friday 14:30-16:30 Aerial display Public MIEC
Friday 17:00-18:00 Maritime demonstration Public RWL
Saturday 10:00-12:00 Aerial display Public MIEC
Saturday 10:00-12:00 Maritime demonstration Public RWL
Saturday 14:30-16:30 Aerial display Public MIEC
Saturday 17:00-18:00 Maritime demonstration Public RWL

LIMA is split between two sites, with the majority of the flying taking place at the Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre (MIEC) in the international airport. Public access to MIEC is restricted to Friday and Saturday, for which three ticket options are available.

The most common ticket type is a standard one day pass, which is paid for and obtained at the Registration Hall (a temporary structure outside the southwest corner of the Exhibition Hall) for a bargain price of RM20 (a little under £4 or $5, or a little over 4). Those who register online before the show can take advantage of two further types of tickets with small discounts available: a pre-booked one day pass costs RM15, and a pre-booked two day pass costs RM25.

Visitors must be formally registered before being admitted and may be refused entry if not wearing appropriate attire (long trousers and covered shoes). Allow plenty of time for the registration process and turn up as early as  you can: the first flying displays begin very soon after the gates open (see Airshow Tips).

The maritime displays take place at Resort World Langkawi (RWL), which is  free to enter and accessible to the public at all times. Officially, aerial displays are only staged at RWL during the last two days, but additional unscheduled displays often take place during the trade days for the benefit of visiting VIPs.

For two reasons, the best photographic opportunities at LIMA come from outside the airport. Firstly, facing northeast, spectators in MIEC are looking directly into sun all morning. Secondly, the most spectacular part of the show is a half-hour one-off demonstration by dozens of fighters and helicopters of the Royal Malaysian Air Force during the opening ceremony at MIEC. This takes place at around 8:00 on the Tuesday, when the show site is open only to VIPs. As such, we have identified four viewing spots which offer a good view of the action. This includes three well-established viewing spots outside of the official show site, one of which is directly underneath the display area. While viewing from these areas is not frowned upon in Malaysia, certain safety risks remain (indeed, an aircraft crashed into a house near Site B in 2015).

MIEC Static Display Area: When open to the public, MIEC offers a good view of the flying with an attractive mountainous backdrop and favourable lighting in the afternoons. The area is also well-suited to taxy shots, as spectators standing along the left-hand fenceline (rather than the front fenceline) can look directly down the main taxyway used by most of the display aircraft, and have a close-up view of startups and showdowns. However, be aware that static aircraft are parked with their tails overhanging the crowdline, so parked aircraft will limit the view from some positions. Also bear in mind that visitors must pass through additional security screening when heading to the apron to view the static and flying displays (see Airshow Tips).

An elevated view of MIEC’s Static Display Area, showing how static aircraft can obscure the view. Photo: Tom Wittevrongel

A Su-30 taking off, as seen from MIEC, with mountains behind. Photo: Tom Wittevrongel

Site A: This offers a very similar view to the MIEC Static Display Area, but offset slightly from show centre. Park near the police academy and walk across the grassy scrub to the perimiter fence. Note that it is not practical to access Site A during the public days due to heavy traffic, parking restrictions and one-way systems.

Looking northeast towards MIEC’s Static Display Area from Site A. Photo: Tom Wittevrongel

Site B: The best-established of the external viewing areas, hundreds of people flock to two informal encampments along the airport perimiter fence opposite MIEC. This site is immediately under the A-axis, meaning aircraft pass directly overhead. Arrive early to stake out a good spot (there are some coverted positions on raised grassy knolls, allowing a good view over the fence) and ensure there is room to park. Food and drink is available from a number of vendors.

A Sukhoi Su-30 directly overflies Site B while taking off. Photo: Tom Wittevrongel

Take-offs and landings take place directly in front of the airport terminal building and Static Display Area. Photo: Tom Wittevrongel

Site C: Probably the most famous of LIMA’s viewing positions, and by far the most unique, Site C occupies a hilltop viewpoint overlooking the airport. While furthest from the airport (you will want a 500mm lens at the very least) it offers sweeping views of the runway and allows spectators to look down on some of the action. Capacity is extremely limited and parking spots often fill up by around 7am (or 5am on the opening day), so make sure to arrive early.

Looking down on the airport from Site C. Photo: Tom Wittevrongel

Resorts World Lankawi: There is only one suitable viewing spot for the maritime displays, which is the official spectator area on the promenade at Resorts World Langkawi. Beware of extreme crowding due to the venue’s limited capacity. Due to the shape of the coast, there are no other viewing positions. Sadly, the harbour walls mean that some of the flying activity (particularly seaplane operations) is unavoidably obscured.

The Malaysian Police demonstrate how they would board a hijacked vessel. Photo: Tom Wittevrongel

Although there is an attractive backdrop, this aircraft will land behind a harbour wall. Photo: Tom Wittevrongel

BY PLANE:

Langkawi has a small international airport served from destinations around southeast Asia, and even some further afield. Most spectators must fly via Kuala Lumpur, which is connected to Langkawi via Malaysian Airlines several times per day. The flight time is less than an hour.

BY CAR:

As public transport is virtually non-existent on Langkawi, hiring a car is essential – and can be done surprisingly cheaply, even during airshow week. There are a number of low-cost car hire companies based out of the main airport terminal, although pre-booking is strongly recommended during this period.

Parking is available at MIEC, and we used it without major incident during the trade days. Traffic on the trade days is smooth and trouble-free.

There is a one-way traffic system in place during the public weekend, so if travelling in your own car, simply head for the airport and then follow the temporary event signage.

Parking in RWL’s main car parks, meanwhile, is easy on any day, although departing traffic was a little slow after the display ended.

BY PRIVATE HIRE VEHICLE:

Travelling to the show by taxi is cheap and easy, but we struggled to find departing taxis on the public days. Since the introduction of apps such as Grab and Uber, this may have changed, but expect to wait several hours after the last flying display until congestion has eased before attempting to book.

BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT:

The airshow runs half-hourly free shuttle buses between MIEC and RWL, and also advertise buses between MIEC and a number of towns and resorts. Even after four days at the show, however, the reviewer was unable to find where or when these buses operated, and so cannot recommend reliance upon this service.

Langkawi is busier during LIMA than at any other time, so book hotels well in advance and expect prices to be higher than usual. However, as a resort island, there is sufficient choice that there remains affordable options for most tastes and budgets. Your reviewer stayed at the Sunset Valley Holiday Houses in rural Langkawi, a pleasant 20-30 minute drive to MIEC.

Arrivals for LIMA begin around one week in advance of the show, and rehearsals begin around four days prior. The two days immediately before the show feature as much action as a full airshow day – including rehearsals of the spectacular opening ceremony performance. Although there is no access to MIEC itself, the many vantage points around the airport are accessible as usual (see Site map & viewing spots).

The most important tip for LIMA is to allow plenty of time for things you wouldn’t usually. This includes registering for tickets (see Ticket Types) and, perhaps more surprisingly, visiting the MIEC Static Display Area to view the flying displays. The Static Display Area is seperated from the rest of MIEC by an additional security checkpoint, and in the lead-up to the flying display, the queue can swell to 30 minutes in length. Disposable water bottles are consficated to reduce the risk of FOD, so as you will likely be in the hot sun for several hours, it is advisable to bring a reusable bottle.

Note that the flying displays at MIEC are usually slightly different on each of the trade days, as not every act will fly on all days. You can probably expect to see every act fly during the public days, but some may only perform in the morning session when the lighting conditions are poor. The opening trade day has a slightly lengthened aerial display, which usually accomodates one-off flypasts from the likes of Malaysia Airlines and the US Air Force.

The exact flying programme for each day is not usually available in advance, but you may be able to find a paper print-out for the day’s flying schedule outside the media centre and event organisers’ booth in the northwest corner of the exhibition hall. Occasionally a photograph of the schedule is posted to the show’s Twitter page as well.

With regards to the schedule, it is important to be prepared for the unexpected. Any event that is officially scheduled to take place will happen (albeit potentially in a much-reduced form – for example, the flying portion has sometimes been dropped from the maritime display), but look out for extra surprises. For example, there are often unscheduled maritime displays during the trade days, and in 2017, an RMAF F/A-18D provided a surprise sunset performance on the last day of the show.

The maritime displays are the element that should be treated with the most caution. Each maritime display slot begins with a series of boat displays, usually followed by one of two aerial displays (Navy or Coast Guard). Both of those displays is quite different in character. The morning slots are generally the best chance of catching more than one of these performances in a single go, while unscheduled/afternoon slots have the highest likelihood of not featuring any aircraft at all.