Nod for Sarawak Airline mulling

Malaysia Airlines aircraft parking on the tarmac at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang as the aviation sector has been severely affected by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. File photo: AFP

KUCHING: The mulling of Sarawak Airline for the right approach in improvements on its connectivity received a nod from tourism industry players and experts in Sarawak.

On Monday (Nov 23), Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg’s Webinar entitled ‘Sarawak 2021 Budget: Towards A High-Income Society In 2030’ hosted by the Sarawak Business Federation, said the mulling was to improve connectivity with strategic locations such as Hong Kong Korea, Japan and Australia, as well as bringing tourists to the state.

He said, “Maybe this airline will not be 100 percent owned by government but together with the private sector because airlines have to be private sector driven.”  This was in response to a question from the Kuching Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCGCCI).

New Sarawak Tribune reached out to tourism industry players and experts to get their comments on the matter.

YS Chan

Tourism expert, YS Chan said the statement made by Abang Johari indeed received support as the aim was to boost connectivity with markets that would offer great tourist potential.

He said that the state government should have minimal share so that investors would work hard for their money.

“The Chief Minister’s Office should have the golden share to retain control of the State Airline, and now is the best time to hire the best brains as many experts are still out there and undiscovered.

“With that, these experts could formulate the best business model over the next five years, from 2021 to 2025,” he said when contacted.

Moreover, Chan also added that many aircrafts had been mothballed and could be purchased at the fraction of the market price during pre-Covid-19, or aircrafts could be leased at basement rates.

“Experts would know that scheduled and charter flights are only profitable if the load factor is high both ways, namely to and from Kuching.

“As in the past, the relatively poor connectivity was due to insufficient passengers both ways. If load factors were good in the past, more airlines or flights would have flown to Kuching.

“As in many new business ventures, it is a chicken and egg situation, namely do we offer the capacity first and wait for the aircrafts to be filled up (by which time airlines will go under), or wait for the demand to increase before adding new airlines or flights?,” he stated.

With that, Chan stressed that real experts would be able to get the new Sarawak Airline to hit the ground running and aircraft flying in no time at all at an opportune time.

“They can burrow a leaf from the cruise industry whereby a new state-of-the-art cruise ship can set off with full load of passengers at its maiden voyage.

“Virtual reality would have given the passengers a virtual tour of the entire ship before booking and boarding,” he continued.

Besides that, Sarawak Airline should also offer very affordable tours at destinations it flies to, not just the flight tickets as a huge income stream would come from carrying cargo.

“Sarawak should promote its home grown produce such as flying the freshest tilapia (from Batang Ai – the best in the world), and other exciting products to promote Sarawak Airline and the State and not to continue with traditional tourism promotions which are no longer effective.

“In short, the success or failure of Sarawak Airline depends on those running it, including being receptive to new ideas and in tune with the new normal, as the old ones must be thrown out of the window,” he highlighted.

Upon being asked when should Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) and Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture be on board, he said that both parties could come in later, namely until the pandemic is over and sentiments to travel returns.

“Setting up a new airlines requires getting the right team first who can then formulate the next generation business model, apply to the Federal Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM), seek funding and more,” he said.

On the same note, Chan also mentioned that when the capital city of Indonesia is relocated to between Samarinda and Balikpapan, the Sarawak Airline would be busy flying passengers from Kuching (by then an air hub) to the new city – as investors from around the region would be going there to tap the immense opportunity offered when building a new capital city.

“Kuching will be a great stopover destination for those from Japan. Korea, China, Taiwan and India before heading to Kalimantan.

“On future collaboration between tourism agencies in Sarawak and Indonesia, it could happen in the future when sentiments are right.

“Visit Borneo Year 2025 is a great idea that Sarawak can initiate and rope in Sabah, Brunei and Indonesia (Kalimantan),” he opined.

Chairwoman of MATTA, Lina Tsen.

Chairwoman of Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta), Lina Tsen opined that it was positive move and it will encourage more tourism activities and arrivals, though it won’t be immediate.

“(But) at the moment, tourism sector has been struggling for almost ten months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and tourists stopped visiting Sarawak since the last Chinese New Year celebration until now,” she added.

Furthermore, Lina said that Matta also sought the state government to give attention to their Sarawak licensed travel Agents, by extending the RM600 Wage Subsidy Programme (PSU) from Social Security Organisation (Perkeso), to June next year.

“This will keep most employers fighting to stay afloat during this pandemic, and some sort of one-off relief fund to local travel agencies to cushion those who have to pay for various services such as tour bus and van loan, salaries, Puspakom test, bus parking fee, bus insurance (under high risk category), licences and office rental,” she said.