KUCHING: Malaysia Airlines celebrated its inaugural Penang-Kuching direct flight service with a festive ceremony at Kuching International Airport (KIA) yesterday.
Flight MH2724 was welcomed with cultural performances upon its maiden arrival from Penang.
A similar celebration also took place at Kota Kinabalu Airport for the inaugural Penang-Kota Kinabalu direct flight service.
Permanent secretary to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Datu Ik Pahon Joyik pointed out that this long-awaited direct flight was a relief to the state’s air connectivity dilemma.
“As such, on behalf of the minister (Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg) and the government, we want to thank Malaysia Airlines and other industry players for their efforts in positioning Sarawak as a tourism destination,” he told reporters here.
Other than Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) which is the main hub, Ik Pahon hoped that Malaysia Airlines would also look into connecting towns and cities across Sarawak to other key cities in Peninsular Malaysia like Johor Baharu.
“We will work closely with Malaysia Airlines to ensure sustainability of the Penang-Kuching route, of which the initial planning was for seasonal flights to take advantage of the festive seasons and school holidays.
“But prior to discussion with Nicholas (Malaysia Airlines – Malaysia Commercial Division regional sales manager
Nicholas Kong), we hope they could look beyond that and see how we could sustain and maintain this route,” he suggested.
“Penang is a very important hub,” Ik Pahon emphasised, adding: “It is the second busiest in Peninsular Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur, with a lot of international flights.
“So we want to leverage Penang as another hub where passengers can take direct flights to Kuching or other major hubs in Sarawak.”
Ik Pahon also pointed out the need to engage and create awareness among those in business and commercial sector to take opportunity of the direct Kuching-Penang air connectivity.
“With the opening of this route, I believe that the increase in business-related activities between the two cities will contribute to the sustainability of the route.
“This is just the beginning and the ministry will give its full support, especially now that the government is putting tourism on the forefront as one of the sectors to move the state’s economy,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kong said the Penang-Kuching route marked a new milestone that would facilitate inbound and outbound travels.
“Moving forward, we are looking at expansion into more domestic routes to facilitate outbound routes. The next couple of months will be very crucial for this route to
gauge the load of the flights, which will later determine the future of the route – should there be changes,” he said.
For a start, the airline is utilising the B737-800 aircraft on both Penang-Kuching and Penang-Kota Kinabalu routes, operating each four times weekly.
‘According to Malaysia Airlines chief commercial officer Arved Von Zur Muehlen, the flights on both routes have received tremendous support from passengers with very encouraging book loads of 70 to 80 per cent – mostly travelling over the holidays and upcoming festive seasons,” he disclosed.
Upon the landing of Flight MH2724, representatives from Malaysia Airlines together with Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) handed out souvenirs to passengers upon disembarkation.
Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd senior manager Mohd Nadzim Hashim, Malaysia Airlines Sarawak assistant sales manager Alias Suut, Malaysian Association of Hotels Sarawak Chapter chairman Ibrahim Nordin and STB acting chief executive officer Mary Wan Mering were among those present at the ceremony.