SANDAKAN: Air Asia has launched the country's first direct, non-stop flight from the KL International Airport (KLIA) to Sandakan.
The new service was launched by Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Tham Nyip Shen, who was also one of the passengers aboard flight AK790 on Monday afternoon.
He was accompanied by Air Asia chairman Datuk Pahamin A. Rajab, celebrity singer Ning Baizura and members of the press.
Passengers of the 148-seater Boeing 737-300 were met by Air Asia chief executive officer Tony Fernandes and Sandakan Municipal Council president Datuk Adeline Leong, among others, in a welcoming ceremony at Sandakan Airport after a 160-minute journey from KLIA.
The ceremony also saw off the return flight from Sandakan to KLIA.
Air Asias inaugural flight from Kuala Lumpur has marked a very impressive development in air transport for Sandakan, said Tham said after the ceremony.
With the new service, he said, travel between peninsular Malaysia and Sandakan would not only be faster but also cheaper as the fare was only RM179.99 one-way.
Air Asias latest destination is seen by some as a welcome boost to Sandakans efforts to develop its eco-tourism industry in line with the towns goal of being declared a Nature City by next year.
Including Sandakan, Air Asia now flies to 11 destinations all domestic. The airline will be adding Sibu to the list when it starts flying there next Monday.
Pahamin said other local destinations the airline is looking at include Bintulu and Johor Baru.
As for international destinations, Fernandes said Air Asia would probably start off with regional flights to Thailand, Indonesia and southern China next year.