KUCHING: The Sarawak and Sabah governments have finally entered negotiations with Khazanah Nasional to increase their shares in MASwings, the rural air service arm of Malaysia Airlines.
Sarawak’s Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said formal talks began last month.
Since 2012, both state governments have expressed interest to buy into MASwings and turn it into a sub-Asean air carrier, with Kuching and Kota Kinabalu as hubs.
Johari said the latest attempt by Sarawak and Sabah started around the time Khazanah Nasional announced its restructuring plans for the national airline.
“We forwarded our interests to the Federal Government and to Khazanah. Last month, I received the reply. Khazanah said the Federal Government had no objections and we started negotiations,” Johari told a press conference on Saturday at the Rainforest World Music Festival here.
“In terms of equity, it is not certain, but what is certain is, there are now negotiations. If successful, MASwings will become the main airline for Sarawak and Sabah.”
Johari said new routes could include direct flights to Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Jakarta, Bangkok and destinations in Australia. Flight frequency to Singapore would also be increased.
When Johari first talked about Sarawak and Sabah’s plans for MASwings in 2012 – prompted after another MAS subsidiary, Firefly, abruptly ceased operations to east Malaysia – it was rumoured each state would hold a 30% equity in the airline, leaving MAS with 40%.
Johari had then said he hoped to conclude talks by the end of that year, but in early 2013, both state governments confirmed that the negotiations had failed.
Johari and Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun rebooted the idea during a MASwings promotional event here called “A New Beginning” at the start of the year.
Masidi said MASwings would do better with less reliance on its parent company.
On Sarawak’s music festival, Johari said some 20,000 people attended it at the Sarawak Cultural Village, including about 300 foreign and local media representatives.
“Year in, year out, one of the main complaints I get from tourists is about the lack of air accessibility,” he said when asked how the festival, which was into its 18th annual edition, could grow further.