Tuesday, September 22

Reduced direct flights dampen Sandakan economy – Khoo

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KOTA KINABALU: Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department Datuk Edward Khoo has expressed disappointment at the decision to reduce the number of airlines operating direct flights between Sandakan to Kuala Lumpur.

Khoo, who is also Sabah MCA liaison chief, said the decision by Malaysia Airlines (MAS), through its subsidiary Firefly, to stop its direct flights between Sandakan and Kuala Lumpur will not auger well for the State Government’s efforts to promote the east coast district as a tourism destination and education hub.

“This will also put a damper on the government’s efforts to attract investors to invest in the POIC in Sandakan,” he said when speaking to reporters at Kota Kinabalu International Airport before leaving for Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Khoo, who was visibly upset over the matter, said the decision to stop MAS fights clearly shows a monopoly of the route by a single airline.

He said: “MAS used to have daily return direct flights between Sandakan and Kuala Lumpur, then Firefly came in to serve this route, so MAS stopped doing it.

“Lately Firefly has also withdrawn its service and we are now left with only AirAsia serving this route.

“I still remember that when MAS and AirAsia had a share swap, it was clearly announced that this swap would not create a monopoly for air travel.

“This particular route between Sandakan and Kuala Lumpur has now become a monopoly (by AirAsia),” he contended.

Khoo said he was informed that MAS would be withdrawing its two Boeing flights from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan and vice versa from December 8.

These flights may later be operated by MASwings which uses smaller aircraft that may not be suitable, as there are many tourists as well as business people flying in and out of Sandakan, he said.

According to Khoo, the business community in Sandakan had voiced their frustration to him through the Sandakan Chinese Chamber of Commerce chairman Chia Hock Aik, who also complained to him about the confusion pertaining to the flights in and out of Sandakan.

Khoo said he was of the opinion that MAS and other associated airlines were not being fair to the people of Sandakan.

“I was also told that not only Sandakan but air travel to other towns in Sabah will be affected as well. So I have contacted the Transport Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha early this morning and have reflected how the local community feels, what is their frustration, anger and unhappiness about the present development in air travel in and out of Sandakan.

“I am going to Kuala Lumpur later and will meet up with him to further discuss the issue as well as urge him to get the Federal Government to intervene in this matter because all these air travel arrangements were done without proper consultation not only with the State Government but also the local business and tourism community,” he said.

Khoo said many of the passengers who had booked their tickets for the direct flight to Kuala Lumpur were now in a quandary as they did not know what they should do next.

“If an airline wants to cancel a flight, they have to have a time frame to inform their passengers; the airline must also have to offer its passengers alternative… it cannot just stop abruptly,” he said.

“I believe that there are some international flights out of Kota Kinabalu that will be cancelled as well. So everybody is on hold… this is vastly unfair to the rakyat of Sabah.

To him, in the normal air travel practice, when an airline wants to stop a flight, it should announce to the public so that they can switch their flight.

“So how can the State Government develop Sandakan into a tourism, education also business centre? If this really happens, then aerobridges in Sandakan will be redundant because AirAsia and MASwings do not use this facility,” he said, adding that the leaders in Sandakan had fought so hard for the convenience of the passengers in Sandakan to have aerobridges.