Reduce airfares, airlines urged

Latest news: Dr Wee giving a speech during the 43rd Johor MCA Convention in Yong Peng. — THOMAS YONG/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia and Malindo have been asked to strive harder to serve the people by lowering airfares, especially to Sarawak, in the run-up to the year’s end, said the Transport Ministry (MOT).

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong said based on the Cabinet’s decision on Friday, MOT had called on these airlines to allow more people to enjoy affordable travel during the year-end period.

“The government acknowledges the concerns and feedback raised by the public over exorbitant airfares ahead of the upcoming holiday season this year and early 2022. Specifically, many travellers have expressed outrage over unusually high airfares to Sarawak.

“This is a matter of serious concern and many discussions have been held to resolve this issue which affects many people, from travellers to family members who are yearning to be reunited after much time apart due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Dr Wee in a Facebook statement yesterday.

He said the MOT had also actively engaged industry players and state governments, including Sarawak, to increase the frequency of flights to related destinations against the backdrop of ongoing efforts to contain Covid-19 nationwide.

“As I have noted in my statements on Nov 3 and 6, much of the solution comes with removing frequency restrictions on airlines to fly to various states.

“In doing so, airfares would then be dictated by market-driven or dynamic pricing mechanism, which takes into account supply and demand, economic conditions and fuel costs, among other factors.

“In this spirit, MOT had written to the Sarawak Transport Minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin on Nov 18 to request that the state government return the discretion of regulating air passenger service frequencies to the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom),” said Dr Wee, adding that his ministry recognised Sarawak’s need to contain Covid-19.

“State governments and their related agencies must do their part to let market supply and demand prevail, and fully allow airlines to increase their service frequencies based on market-driven considerations, with Mavcom and the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia prepared to approve more flights.

“At the same time, all parties are also responsible for strictly complying with the Health Ministry’s protocols to reduce the spread of infections everywhere,” said Dr Wee.

Malaysia Airlines announced late on Friday that it had received approval from the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) to operate additional flights to Sarawak from Dec 11 to Jan 5.

The frequency of Kuala Lumpur-Kuching flights will be increased from 21 to 35 weekly, while those to Bintulu, Miri and Sibu will be increased from seven to 14 flights weekly.

With this latest development, SDMC has approved 307 flights per week to Sarawak, up from 223, including from Singapore-based Scoot, for the period between Dec 4 and Jan 5.

“We hope that the state government would expeditiously bring the number back up to 502, as per how it was before the pandemic impacted air travel.

“With this, I urge related parties to take action to lower air fares without the need for the federal government and its agencies to unduly intervene in the operations of these enterprises,” said Dr Wee.

At an afternoon press conference in Yong Peng, Johor, he noted that preparations for the start of both the land and air Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL-Land and VTL-Air) were running smoothly.

“At the initial phase of VTL-Land, we will allow 1,440 people to travel across the border in each direction, and the number will be increased gradually.

“We cannot open up for a large number of travellers right away,” he said, adding that he would be joining Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob at the joint opening event at the Causeway today with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

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