Airport upgrade priority of ‘CM Tony’
by Murib Morpi. Posted on September 21, 2012, Friday
KOTA KINABALU: Airline tycoon Tan Sri Tony Fernandes said improving airport and helping entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses would be among his top priority if he were the Chief Minister of Sabah.
The AirAsia Group CEO said Kota Kinabalu International Airport needs to have better facilities to cater for the unique needs of the low-cost carrier in brining in more visitors for its tourism sector.
“Low cost is very important and we want Sabah to have the biggest low cost carrier terminal (LCCT) in the Pacific ring area. Then we can continue to expand,” he said during the Sabah International Business Luncheon Talk 2012 here yesterday.
Tony, who shared his experience and success stories as the sole speaker at the talk, was asked about his top priorities if he were the Chief Minister of Sabah in order to make the state a true hub for the far east.
“It’s very easy to tell a CM how to run a state but I don’t know. I know how to run an airline but it must be a nightmare with so many different people with vested interests,” he said.
Tony believed the airport would be one of the critical areas Sabah needs to look at especially as it has huge potential to be the mid- point between Australia and north Asia where demand for low cost air travel services were rapidly growing.
“We want people in Tokyo to open up the newspaper and say, ‘Hey we can go to Kota Kinabalu.’ And when they come, they will spread the word of mouth.
“We also need to push, which is happening, the BIMP-EAGA as well. The tourism potential in the region is massive and AirAsia can play a part in that.
“There is a huge economic upside in making Sabah the biggest LCC hub in this part of the world. So, that’s something I would love and encourage as a chief minister,” he said.
He said AirAsia was struggling to maintain its operation at the congested Terminal Two but could not afford to move to the new Terminal One as this would result in higher operating cost and additional airport tax for its passengers.
Instead of forcing low cost carrier operators to move, he said the government should relieve the congestion at the existing LCCT and consider developing it into a city within a city, to cater for the growing number of international visitors coming to the state.
“I would be the last person to move to Terminal One. The reason is that airport tax will go up from RM30 to RM65. We don’t pay it, the customers will. And for a family of four or five, it makes a big difference of about RM200 in just airport tax.
“It’s not a popular decision but we are here to make sure that flying is affordable and help develop new routes for Sabah. We’ve proven that with our three million passengers here and 13 new routes.
“This is through having low fare, and low fare comes from low cost. Moving us to Terminal One will kill us and ensure many routes will be cut because it’s not a hugely economic rosy time. People are thrifty with money,” he said.
According to Tony, other countries were beginning to see the importance of improving air connectivity through low cost carrier services to complement the full service airlines.
He noted Vietnam had talked to AirAsia about low cost airport, while Indonesia was already building two LCCTs.
Apart from airport, Tony said the second aspect he would pay attention to was to promote and facilitate entrepreneurship.
“Finding finance to start a business is very, very hard. Whatever the state government could do to facilitate businesses, I think it would help tremendously if it could provide funding for young entrepreneurs.
“And secondly, cutting bureaucracy. Bureaucracy kills business. The government should be there to facilitate and allow businesses to grow.
“And there is so much talent in Sabah, so much energy, enthusiasm. It just needs a little bit of liquidity to make it happen,” he said.