Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sabah will make an ideal hub for low-cost carriers

Sabah has the ingredients for it to be positioned as the air hub for the Far East.

Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) is the second busiest airport in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), handling 5.8 million passengers last year.

The busiest air route between two airports within Malaysia is the Kuala Lumpur-Kota Kinabalu sector, followed by the Kuala Lumpur-Kuching sector.

According to Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Datuk Masidi Manjun, Sabah has a favourable position by virtue of its ideal location in the first place.

"To me, it is already a hub for East Malaysia because we are within five hours away from all the main cities in Asia. Air connectivity is a crucial component of the travel industry.

"In the case of Sabah, over 94pc of our tourists come by air, and the bulk of tourism revenue is derived from both the domestic and international markets.

"We are positioning KKIA as the second air hub for the region (after KLIA). After all, we are already practising open sky policy," he said.

Travel industry players are calling on the Government to enhance connectivity between Sabah and East Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong and India.

In this regard, Masidi welcomed the announcement that Malaysia Airlines (MAS) would add three international routes from Kota Kinabalu (KK) effective from December this year - 11 months after it suspended four direct international flights linking Sabah with Japan, South Korea and Australia.

This followed the short honeymoon between MAS and AirAsia through a share swap arrangement that was torn up following extensive grilling in Parliament that the deal was only favouring one side.

It was reliably learned that MAS was also negotiating for a direct flight between Shanghai and KK.

Saying all this is good news, the Minister said he had a series of meetings and consultations with the management of MAS in an attempt to work out other options in response to the route cancellations.

"At one stage, we had a meeting every month, sometimes twice a month.

But I must also give credit to my staff in Sabah Tourism Board (STB) for having assisted in this concern.

"So, when I say 'We', I am talking about not just my Ministry but also Sabah Tourism Board.

I must say in all honesty that I have good officers in Sabah Tourism.

"They understand the market and have had good personal relationship with many of those who make decisions. And that facilitated the negotiations we had with MAS," he said.

"They (MAS) told me recently that they are now actively pursuing a revival of the Tokyo flight to Sabah.

 It is a matter of securing the slot to land at KKIA."

Asked whether this is a positive outcome of his meetings with MAS, Masidi said he and Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman had met up with MAS even before the announcement of the cancellation of some routes that would affect Sabah's interests.

"MAS actually wanted to brief the CM. It was a briefing on why they wanted to cancel the three international routes."

He also hailed the announcement that the national carrier would raise frequencies to an existing international route from KK.

"It is the KK-Hong Kong sectorÉtwo more weekly services on Wednesdays and Saturdays."

MAS, he added, was trying its best to accommodate Sabah's needs although the company has not fully recovered from its financial woes.

"Hence, it will take some time for MAS not only to bounce back but also to fully serve all our needs.

But I believe the airline is on its way to profitability."

In addition, China Southern Airlines will launch a non-stop service from its hub Guangzhou to Kota Kinabalu, starting from Oct. 31. It is a positive outcome of a two-year discussion between the airline and Masidi.

"The airline had previously operated chartered flights to Kota Kinabalu."

On the KK-Davao flights supposed to start Nov. 1 this year, he said these also augur well for positioning Sabah as the hub for the Far East.