Good to open up Sabah, Sarawak skies to others, says assistant minister

Annuar-Rapaee-aeroplaneKUCHING: Sarawak Assistant Minister for Education and Technological Research Dr Annuar Rapa’ee believes the people of Sabah and Sarawak will be better served if the federal government opens up six routes now operated by MASwings to commercial airlines.

The Borneo Post quoted him as saying: “Honestly, MASwings is not reliable and there are a lot of delays and technical problems and people get scared of the technical issues. Their frequency is also not that good.

“Therefore, if they (federal government) think that it is better to open up (the routes) to the private sector, like AirAsia and other airlines, to serve the people better, I think we should go for it. It’s an open market.”

Annuar was commenting on Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai’s statement that MASwings would cease operating six routes in Sabah and Sarawak by next year to make way for commercial airlines.

Liow had said the decision was reached after the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) had conducted a study on rural air services (RAS).

Mavcom’ found that six existing routes, jointly operated by MASwings, Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia, have a load factor of up to 86% and will be profitable for commercial airlines. The routes are Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan, Kota Kinabalu-Tawau, Kota Kinabalu-Miri, Kuching-Miri, Kuching-Kota Kinabalu and Kuching-Sibu.

Liow had said MASwings would stop the six routes in Sabah and Sarawak because it could not sustain its operations. MASwings gets up to RM160 million in annual subsidies from the government for its operations.

“The government is ready to consider applications by commercial airlines to operate RAS, subject to conditions, but if we open up RAS to commercial airlines, we cannot subsidise MASwings anymore,” he said in reply to questions by Lanang MP Alice Lau and Stampin MP Julian Tan in the Dewan Rakyat on Nov 8.

However, State Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah was quoted by The Borneo Post as saying any move to stop MASwings operating the routes would affect tourism.

He reminded the federal transport ministry that Sarawak and Sabah were the two biggest states in the country and needed good air connectivity between cities and towns within the two states.

“Ceasing operations for these routes will not be good for business, tourism and movements within these states, ” said Karim.