Air Connectivity: A challenge, not an obstacle
Posted on August 5, 2012, Sunday
Industry sources speculated that it’s high time for Sarawak to have its own regional airline and the announcement is expected to be made some time soon towards year-end. But what if the decision falls apart? BizHive Weekly looks into ‘Plan B’ with suggestions and views from major industry players.
Cannon of SCB said the current air connectivity to Sarawak was not an obstacle for the bureau to hunt for more bids and to get more business events to come in. “It will only be a challenge for us but not a problem. Definitely it will be a plus point for us if Australia and more neighbouring countries have direct flight services into Sarawak,” he stressed.
“We anticipate growth still but we anticipate that we have to fight for it harder and we have to be more ingenious in the way we use our marketing arm to gain more business,” he added.
In terms of target market, Cannon pointed out that China and Australia should have direct flights to Sarawak. “We will have a large catchment area if the government will be able to pull this off for Sarawakians,” said Cannon.
Patrick Sim of Wah Tung, on the other hand, voiced out his concern on the air fares charges. “Comparatively, our hotels are cheap and we have all the high-tech facilities in place, but when it comes to air fares charges, we are at a disadvantage.
“International convention organisers will study the market and they will definitely come out with the most appropriate destination budget for the conference. The hassle for international business travellers is they need to transit from the main hub in KL before reaching Kuching,” said Sim.
Adding on to what Cannon said about China being a prime target market, Sim pointed out Shenzhen City in China was ideal because of its centralised location. “The city has flight connections all over the country and it will be an advantage for us.
“Tourism industry in the country does not really depend much on the national carrier – we are more dependent on other airlines that are flying through Singapore and Malaysia routes. In order to source them here, STB needs to have a really strong budget,” Sim highlighted.
‘Ex-airline man’ Datuk Rashid Khan of STB had a similar take on the airline industry but on a much more detailed scale, saying that, “In order to improve connectivity from our current airport, we need to go into ‘DNA’ level with marked improvements on the transit schedule.
“We need to talk to the airlines if they can possibly improve on the schedule at KLIA and Singapore because we are dependent on that sort of connectivity,” he stressed.
He said the government should encourage more code sharing agreements with foreign airlines and improvement should be done on the global distribution system (GDS) of travel agents as part of the marketing strategy.
“Another plus point is for us to leverage on the liberal aviation policy because that is the Asean Roadmap for Integration of the Air Travel Sector. There will be no more restrictions, just like what Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Phillipines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) is doing at the moment,” he suggested.
Singapore’s liberal aviation policy of open skies had helped the country to grow as a key air hub in the Asia-Pacific region. This policy was based on its fundamental belief in free and open competition in Singapore’s aviation sector.
But the question that arises is, how commercially viable and visible it is for the operators?
Next on the cards would be to focus on charter operations during peak periods, as suggested by Khan. He pointed out that China had a lot of aircraft on the ground from 1900 hours to 0600 hours. “The tick of business is there, they can fly here after their operating hours and return back before they start their morning flights, making it to more profitable.”
“Then, we look at Malaysia airport incentive programmes for Sarawak terminal – free landing, parking and all the necessary steps. It becomes a whole air accessibility programme in terms of execution,” he concluded.
MASwings Sdn Bhd is the current regional airline in East Malaysia, operating the Rural Air Services (RAS) and serving the BIMP-EAGA routes. It has just kick-started its second phase of operations, seeing a new route from Kuching to Balikpapan scheduled to take off in October.
The regional airline currently owns 10 units of ATR72-500s and four HDC-6 Twin Otters. It will be adding another ATR72-500s in the next few months.
With all these suggestions and plans coming to fruition, moving forward Sarawak is well positioned to take advantage of the MICE industry and carve a niche for itself as a desired and preferred destination in the eyes of the global community.