The much-awaited Hari Raya Aidilfitri festive season earlier this month was celebrated with merriment – many had the chance to return to their hometown and kampungs – which they weren’t able to do during the past two years.
However, to many, flying home left a bitter taste in the mouth as their preferred airline – we know which – had presented them with some unwanted roadblocks.
Out of the blue, flights are being rescheduled left and right, frustrating the celebrants who want nothing other than to get to their destination.
Many were left fuming as they had to wait hours to board their flights due to the upsurge in travellers for the festive season.
Complaints have circulated the social media sphere the past week with the customers calling for the airline to be held responsible.
It has also prompted a probe by Putrajaya, taking heed of the dissatisfaction of the travellers.
Sarawakians, too, were not spared from the problem as many working across the South China Sea had their flights delayed or rescheduled.
This brings us to the topic of setting up a boutique airline – particularly one that is owned by Sarawak itself.
This idea isn’t new – it has been in the pipelines for some time. The state government in 2017 had expressed interest in taking over MASwings.
However, MASwings at the time was owned by Malaysia Airlines which was reluctant to sell.
The proposal cropped up again in 2019, aiming to connect Kuching with other strategic destinations in the region. It was also aimed to ensure Sarawak could secure more direct international flights.
The year following that, international travel came to a screeching halt due to COVID-19, domestic travel too had slowed. It stayed the same way the year after.
At the tail-end of last year when the world slowly recovered from the pandemic, Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg revealed that plans are underway for a boutique airline.
Abang Johari then was officiating at the ground-breaking of Bebuling STOLport, a short take-off and landing airport in Spaoh, Betong.
The Premier was fully intent on setting up a Sarawak boutique airline and to many, they felt that it was about time.
The idea was sound – a state-owned airline would unlock a lot of possibilities for tourism, export and socioeconomic development.
This is particularly in hard-to-reach places in the hinterlands and at the heart of the state – where air travel is limited via the existing airliners.
It would enable Sarawak to have a direct link to economic and trade hubs such as Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok and Hong Kong.
In terms of tourism, it will enable visitors to explore less common tourist attractions – ones that are less convenient to travel to, before.
With the influx of tourists, it would spur the economy of the locals as well enable them to market their products which are probably lesser known to the world.
Local and fresh produce too will be easier to be exported to other regions where there is demand – Singaporeans had a taste of our unique midin and Batang Ai’s red tilapia – and they wanted more.
I bet with more destinations accessible for export, there is more potential for suitors which is a definite boon to our agriculture industry which is now being modernised.
And finally, a state-owned airline would definitely present a compelling option to our locals to travel, be it within Sarawak or to a destination outside of it.
This though is provided that the airline is able to keep its airfares affordable, well run and more importantly, hospitable.
With the economies of scale and given that this airline of ours will be operating on a limited capacity, I don’t expect them to undercut the airfares of low-cost airlines.
However, I expect them to provide a reasonable and reliable alternative to travellers with less delays and rescheduling of flights during peak season.
Who knows, if it does take off and they do everything right, it could be the preferred airline for Sarawakians in the future.
Of course, the stakes will be high – running an airline could prove costly, we all know that.
So, to the naysayers and pessimists, the leaders in the opposition who shot down the proposal in the past, calling it ‘hot-air’, I say, let’s give it a chance.
Let us finally give wings to our own airline.