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Monday September 12, 2011

MASwings not flying to Brunei upsets more quarters

KUCHING: The Transport Ministry’s refusal to give MASWings quick approval to become a sub-Asean air carrier will upset more than Malaysia’s tourism players.

Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, East Asean Growth Region (Bimp-Eaga) Tourism Council last year submitted a letter of support to the Transport Ministry, urging it to grant MASWings rights to operate flights between the four countries.

But last weekend, the state Tourism and Heritage Ministry revealed the federal ministry was sitting on the decision.

In an immediate reaction, Bimp-EAGA’s Malaysia Tourism Council chairman, Datuk Wee Hong Seng, said the council “cannot understand why it is taking so long”.

“Bimp-EAGA wrote to the Transport Ministry last year specifically to voice our support for MASWings to operate more routes. We had signatures from representatives from all four countries,” Wee told reporters on Saturday. “Now, we just don’t know why the approval is being held back.”

Wee said the council wrote the letter, with the understanding of Sarawak and Sabah governments’ intention of having MASWings expand eastwards in Asean, while Firefly expanded services to from here to peninsula Malaysia.

Both MASWings and Firefly are sister airlines of national air carrier Malaysia Airlines, which recently underwent a share swap deal with its main rival AirAsia.

“With the latest developments, perhaps plans are being pushed back,” Wee said.

“But I don’t see why the (Transport) Ministry would not want to let MASWings quickly expand. They (MASWings) want it. They know passenger volume is not a problem.”

Wee added that tourism players in the four countries had plans to “spend a lot of money” to promote the routes.

“We had hoped it would not have taken this long. Anyway, I’ve just spoken to MASWings’ people today (Saturday). I told them to tell us if they need another letter of support, we’ll quickly send another one,” Wee added.

MASWings has been trying to secure approval from the Transport Ministry to begin Kuching-Brunei flights.

Presently, there is no flight between the two destinations, following Royal Brunei Air’s cancellation mid year. RBA is in the midst of a revamp.

When the matter came to light, the state authorities were quick to announce that MASWings would take over the route.

“All this time MASWings had been subsidised to provide rural area services (RAS), and now they want to fly a route that does not need to be subsided, and yet you don’t want to quickly allow MASWings to fly it?” Wee said.

He said the slow decision had nothing to do with the policies of the other three sub-Asean countries.

“It seems like this is an internal thing (for Malaysia). In the first place, this should not be a difficult thing to sort out.

“Why are we begging other countries’ airlines to come to us, and then when our own (airline) is willing, you don’t allow?

“I hope they come to their senses soon. It is not fair for Sarawak and Sabah to be affected by this share swap.”

Wee was speaking to reporters after opening a singing contest here. MAS and AirAsia are undertaking a route rationalisation exercise.

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