Talk to Putrajaya to improve domestic air connectivity, state government urged

A plane sits on a runway at night. — file pic. // Photo: Pixabay

KUCHING, August 5: Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) Youth wing is urging the state government to negotiate with the Ministry of Transport to improve domestic air connectivity in Sarawak.

This is in view of the fact that the contract for rural air services (RAS) with MASwings had not been renewed since September 2017 and air connectivity issues had not been resolved for the past 10 years.

SUPP Youth chief Michael Tiang opined that the negotiation should be done before the new contract with MASwings was finalised.

“It is time for the state government to step in to ensure MASwings’ new RAS contract would provide better flight connectivity and reasonable airfares in Sarawak,” he said in a statement today.

MASwings Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Aminuddin Zakaria held a dialogue at the Sibu Chinese Chamber of Commerce on August 2, where he revealed that the RAS across Sabah and Sarawak ended in September last year.

Tiang lamented that air connectivity to and out of Sibu had been a “nightmare” for the last 10 years, even though Sibu is a transportation hub for the state’s central region. He claimed that when Maswings replaced MAS in 2006, all internal flights to Sibu were stopped.

“We have been demanding for better air connectivity between Sibu to Kuching, Bintulu, Miri and Kota Kinabalu. Since Sibu airport is not an international airport, we need earlier flights to Kuching and Kota Kinabalu so that the passengers can connect to international flights.

“For example, the earliest flight from Sibu to Kota Kinabalu would only arrive (in Kota Kinabalu) around 10am, but most international flights to China would depart around 10am also,” argued Tiang.

He also proposed that MASwings’ airfares be reviewed, too. He claimed that on many occasions, a return trip from Sibu to Kota Kinabalu cost over RM1,000, and a return trip from Sibu to Miri cost over RM400.

MASwings is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines Bhd, and the cost of operating the RAS is fully borne by the federal government in the form of subsidies and aircraft leasing amounting to about RM190 million annually, said Tiang.

Despite the subsidy, he opined, MASwings charged “exorbitant prices” for its tickets; thus, it flew half-empty most of the time.

“I also observed that most of the best hours and routes are taken up by AirAsia, and their flights are full. Instead of competing, MASwings flies at off-peak periods and to very limited destinations. Now, who is the national airline that receives government subsidies here?” questioned Tiang.

If Sarawakians did not benefit even with the payment of subsidies to MASwings, Tiang suggested that the routes be open to other commercial airlines. Alternatively, the subsidy should be given to another airline that can serve the people better. — DayakDaily