Sarawak, Sabah eye MASwings


MASwings staff with members of the public at airlines The New Beginning marketing campaign at Kuching Waterfront. Cheap fares from RM21 are up for grabs. - ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE / The Star

KUCHING: The Sarawak and Sabah governments want to acquire MASwings’ equity, bringing back an old proposal first made in 2012 that was shelved a year later.

Both governments want to turn the rural air service carrier, which is fully owned by Malaysia Airlines (MAS), into a medium-haul airline to serve the Asean region from Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.

Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said a revamped MASwings could fly to Hong Kong, Seoul, Bangkok, Singapore and Jakarta.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said MASwings needed to be “more aggressive” in order to be economically viable in the long term.

The two ministers were speaking at MASwings’ “A New Beginning” marketing campaign, which kicked off on Friday at Kuching Waterfront.

The ministers said they would support one another in their proposals to the Federal Government. They said MAS, which is under-going yet another restructuring under a new chief executive, should not neglect Sarawak and Sabah.

“It has been observed in the past when MAS was in trouble, when it had to be restructured, there would be adverse impacts on Sarawak. If you can recall, we used to have flights to Perth and Frankfurt,” Johari told the launching ceremony.

“It makes business sense for MAS to look at turning MASwings into a regional airline. It is possible to make it a medium-haul regional airline for Sarawak and Sabah. The shareholders can be MAS plus the Sarawak and Sabah state governments.”

The minister from Sabah said MASwings needed autonomy. “MAS should re-evaluate its strategy so that it can grow by its own without too much reliance on its parent company,” Masidi said.

He added decision makers in Peninsular Malaysia must understand that, while it was possible to drive from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, it was not possible to drive across the South China Sea.

“A total of 94% of all visitors to Sabah come by air. That shows you how important air connectivity is. I think we deserve this. We need it.” Masidi said.

Back in 2012, the Sarawak government announced its intention to buy into MASwings. It was speculated each of the two east Malaysian state governments would hold 30% of equity, leaving MAS with 40%.

Johari even told reporters then that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had given the green light and Sarawak had hoped to conclude the deal by end-2012.

However, by January 2013, the state governments announced it had given up on the proposal, which had been made after Firefly (another MAS subsidiary) abruptly pulled out from Sarawak and Sabah.

MASwings chief executive Captain Ritzerwan Rashid said the subsidiary was at a crossroads during a press conference last week.

He said much would depend on the transformation of MAS. One option was for MASwings to take over all of its parent company’s jet routes within the two east Malaysian states.

The other proposal was for MASwings to be reabsorbed back into MAS.

The decision should be known by “middle of this year”, he said.

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