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Monday December 5, 2011

MASwings to begin flying within BIMP-EAGA in February

KUCHING: MASwings has been given the green light to fly within the BIMP-EAGA region early next year.

Transport Deputy Minister Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri said the Cabinet had approved MASwings’ application to expand its service to Brunei, Pontianak in Kalimantan, Indonesia and Davao in Southern Philippines.

“The flights will start in February. I was told that they are planning to fly from Kuching to Pontianak, Kuching to Brunei, and Kuching to Kota Kinabalu, Tawau and Davao,” he told a press conference at Kuching International Airport yesterday.

Following the latest greenlight, MASwings, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines (MAS), is expected to fly the Bandar Seri Begawan-Davao City-Tarakan-Balikpapan (both in Kalimantan) sector from Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.

Abdul Rahim believed MASwings’ flights within BIMP-EAGA region would enhance commerce, trade and tourism for Sabah and Sarawak.

“MASwings ATR 72-500, which can accommodate about 70 passengers, are more suitable and efficient to serve this (BIMP-EAGA) region than if the sector is operated by bigger aircraft,” he added.

He said the Federal Government was fully committed to Sabah and Sarawak, especially in providing air connectivity.

He noted that the Government was paying RM150mil to MASwings in subsidy for the airline to operate the rural air services in Sabah and Sarawak.

“We subsidise MASwings’ flights to remote areas even if there is no passenger,” he said.

The recent share swap between MAS and AirAsia had created a lot uncertainty and anxiety among the state’s tourism players.

With the termination of Firefly flights to Kuching from Kuala Lumpur (seven times daily) and Johor (twice daily), accessibility to Sarawak has been adversely affected despite the favourable load factor of at least 90% .

The Sarawak Government had asked its federal counterpart to consider positioning MASwings as a regional airline after budget airline Firefly ceased operations between Peninsular Malaysia and Kuching in October.

All four countries in the BIMP-EAGA grouping had agreed to discuss ways to improve air connectivity in the region after the conclusion of the BIMP-EAGA ministerial meeting in Cagayan De Oro in the Philippines recently.

On aircraft movements at the Kuching International Airport between January and September, Abdul Rahim said flight landings and departures increased by 19.28 per cent to 39,984 from 31,844 last year.

Till September, flights to domestic destinations rose by 19.46 per cent while international flights by 17.71 per cent, he said.

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