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.
|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 alternative viewing spots which offer a good view of the action. 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).
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, but it is relatively easy to access during the trade days and public days.
Sites B and C: The best-established of the external viewing areas, hundreds of people flock to two informal encampments along the airport perimiter fence opposite MIEC.
Site B is immediately under the datum point where the A-axis and B-axis intersect, meaning aircraft pass directly overhead. Aircraft usually take off on Runway 21, passing Site B at low level. Landing aircraft generally use Runway 03 and roll past Site B as they taxy in. There is limited offroad parking available; approach Site B on Route 158 and find a space to park before reaching the perimeter fence, as beyond Site B, the road becomes impassable for cars. Then, explore the area on foot. A temporary, unofficial campsite springs up in the field at Site B, with refreshment stands and large crowds. The perimeter fence is quite substantial here, but there are some coverted positions on raised grassy knolls within the field, and several trees to offer shade.
Site C, further north, is similarly located under the A-axis display line, but is displaced from the B-axis and the datum point, meaning the view of the flying display is not quite as good. However, the perimeter road is raised above the height of the fence here, allowing unobstructed views of the runway. Aircraft taking off on Runway 21 are generally still on the ground here, allowing for good tracking shots. Landing aircraft generally vacate the runway before reaching Point C. Like at Point B, a temporary unofficial campsite springs up in the field at Point C, but spectators line the roadside all the way to the runway threshold.
Site D: Probably the most famous of LIMA’s viewing positions, and by far the most unique, Site D 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.
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.
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.
As public transport is virtually non-existent on Langkawi, hiring a car is virtually essential – and can be done surprisingly cheaply, even during airshow week.
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, even on the roads into and out of MIEC.
During the main public weekend, traffic near MIEC builds up. There is a one-way traffic system in place, so if travelling in your own car, simply head in the direction of the airport and then follow the temporary event signage. The queues are generally long, but continuously moving, and the car parks are reasonably close to the show site.
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 final two rehearsal days are as action-packed as the main event days – 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, walking between MIEC’s Exhibition Hall and Static Display Area at the start and end of 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 and there are no refreshment stands in the Static Display Area, so as you will likely be in the hot sun for several hours, it is crucial to bring your own reusable water 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. This is because, with just two hours of flying, there is usually insufficient time for every attendee to perform on any given day. The public days feature four hours of flying, so you can probably expect to see everything fly, but beware that some aircraft 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. These are not repeated later in the week.
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 social media accounts, but do not rely on this.
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 without notice), 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 features a series of boat displays. This is usually followed by an aerial displays. Aerial displays are provided either by the Navy or Coast Guard, and typically, only one of these aerial displays will be performed each day. It is not usually announced in advance which of the two shows will be performed in any one session – if any. The morning slots during the public days are generally the best chance of catching one of these performances, while afternoon performances often do not feature any aircraft at all.