Jonathan Chia, firstname.lastname@example.org
KUCHING: Assistant Minister for Education and Technological Research Dr Annuar Rapa’ee supports opening up six routes in Sabah and Sarawak to commercial airlines to serve the people better.
Dr Annuar, who is Nangka assemblyman, acknowledged that MASwings could not provide a reliable service, with many delays and technical problems faced by the regional airline that affected its service to the people, especially those in the interior of Sarawak.
“Honestly, MASwings is not reliable and there are a lot of delays and technical problems and people get scared of the technical issues. Their frequency is also not that good.
“Therefore, if they think that it is better to open up (the routes) to private sector like AirAsia and other airlines to serve the people better, I think we should go for it. It’s an open market,” he told The Borneo Post yesterday.
Dr Annuar was commenting on Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai’s statement that MASwings would cease operating six routes in Sabah and Sarawak by next year to make way for commercial airlines.
He said the decision was reached after Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) had conducted a study on rural air services (RAS).
Mavcom’s finding was that the six existing routes, which are jointly operated by MASwings with commercial airlines like Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia, have high load factor up to 86 per cent, which makes it more profitable for commercial airlines.
The routes are Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan, Kota Kinabalu-Tawau, Kota Kinabalu-Miri, Kuching-Miri, Kuching-Kota Kinabalu and Kuching-Sibu.
In stressing the importance of providing reliable service to the people, Dr Annuar said AirAsia has been able to provide a more reliable service compared to MASwings. He cited the Kuching-Sibu route as an example, where the low-cost carrier’s flights were always on time, even though their flight frequencies were between two and three times a day.
Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said the Transport Ministry must understand that Sarawak and Sabah are the two biggest states in the country which need good air connectivity between cities and towns within the two states.
“Ceasing operations for these routes will not be good for business, tourism and movements within these states. It is hoped that the Transport Ministry and Mavcom will look into this matter deeply and not cease operation just based on load (factor) as it will greatly hinder the growth and development of towns where these flights are connected,” he said.
Liow was quoted by a national daily as saying that MASwings would stop the six routes in Sabah and Sarawak because it could not sustain its operations.
“The government is ready to consider applications by commercial airlines to operate RAS, subject to conditions, but if we open up RAS to commercial airlines, we cannot subsidise MASwings anymore,” he said in reply to questions by Lanang MP Alice Lau and Stampin MP Julian Tan in the Dewan Rakyat on Nov 8.
Liow said AirAsia had previously applied to conduct rural air services in East Malaysia, but the routes applied for had little potential as viable commercial routes due to low load factor.
Therefore, he said it is likely that if the government allows commercial airlines to operate these routes, they may cease operations after a while when they do not make enough profit.
“That is why we demanded AirAsia give us a five-year guarantee because we need to guarantee the people of Sabah and Sarawak that they will have continued flights to these destinations if MASwings no longer caters to them,” he was quoted as saying.
MASwings is one of the few providers of rural air services in East Malaysia, and gets up to RM160 million in annual subsidies from the government for its operations.