CM asks AirAsia to fly more international flights to Sabah

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Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Hajiji Haji Noor discussing with Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Datuk Kamarudin Meranun and Datuk Joniston Bangkuai.

KOTA KINABALU (Dec 4): Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Hajiji Haji Noor has prompted AirAsia to look into mounting more flights from international destinations to Sabah.

He said the low-cost carrier should take advantage of Sabah’s strategic location to operate as many international flights as possible to the State capital.

“The State Government recognised that AirAsia is the main provider of air accessibilty to Sabah and I would like to see the airline do more,” he said during a courtesy call by the top management of Capital A, formerly known as AirAsia Group Berhad, at his office here on Monday.

Led by Chief Executive Officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Executive Chairman Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, they briefed the Chief Minister on the low-cost airline’s current operations and future plans. They shared AirAsia’s christening of the airline’s aircraft named after the late Datuk Irene Benggon Charuruks, in recognition of the former Sabah Tourism Board (STB) general manager’s contribution to the state’s tourism industry, earlier on Monday.

Also present was Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister cum STB Chairman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai.

Speaking to the media earlier, Fernandes said Sabah was the beginning for AirAsia and is the catalyst for its growth in this region.

He said the company would not be where it is now without Sabah.

“We wouldn’t be here, it is as simple as that. Sabah was the beginning for AirAsia and was the catalyst for growth. Remember we were the first airline to fly direct from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau and Sandakan. That time we were flying twice a day to Kota Kinabalu, now we are at almost 20 flights a day,” he said when replying to the question of where will AirAsia would be without Sabah.

Fernandes added that AirAsia now flies to Kota Kinabalu 331 times weekly and since 2002, has transported 80 million passengers from international and domestic routes to Sabah.

“Irene really played a massive part, it is not something I say lightly, she opened up our eyes to Sabah’s potential and our first few international flights were from here through her assistance.

“I don’t think we would be where we are without Sabah and Irene, Tengku Adlin and the state government at that time was really supportive. Every Chief Minister has been very supportive to us and continues to be.

“Sabah is not only just then, it is now, we will continue to grow because of people like Datuk Joniston, the Chief Minister among others. Sabah supported us during Covid as the only loan we got was from Sabah Development Bank. Sabah continues to be a believer and supporter in us and that is something we will never forget,” he said.

“We may be a Peninsular-based company but we really are a Sabah-based company. We have done so much for Sabah and we have so many routes so I don’t think you should see us as a Peninsular-based company because we probably are a large part of the state’s economy,” he added.

On the issue of expensive airfare to Sabah, Fernandes said that high costs due to global oil price among others is one of the factors AirAsia must consider.

“Seventy per cent of our cost in dollars so when the US dollar is strong AirAsia’s cost goes up. Our philosophy is to bring fares as low as possible and that is what we always wanted to do. As soon as the cost goes down, we will lower the fare. But we are still substantially cheaper than anywhere else, that is the main thing,” he stressed.

He however pointed out that fares are higher during the festive season and that AirAsia does offer low fares throughout the year.

“We put on special flights such as the night flights, continue to develop more routes and implement services that help us in reducing costs. We want to make fares cheap but we also have to survive,” he said.