‘Expand Sabah Air to counter Air Asia threat’

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah MCA has not taken kindly to Air Asia chief executive officer Tony Fernandes’ threat to ditch the state and move his operations elsewhere if the current deadlock with Malaysian Airports Berhad and Transport Ministry is not resolved soon.

MAB wants Air Asia to shift its operations to the new Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA). But Fernandes has refused.

The party’s Penampang division has suggested to Chief Minister Musa Aman an alternative plan. Penampang division chief Francis Goh has proposed that the Sabah Government expand the operations of Sabah Air Aviation (Sabah Air) by acquiring more aircrafts and introducing commercial flights.

He said the state government should not succumb to Fernandes’ threat and that expanding Sabah Air is a viable option in view of the state’s growing tourism industry.

He said Air Asia was not the only low budget airline servicing the sector and that Malindo Air offered similar rates but with “better service and facilities”.

He also dismissed Fernandes’ argument that increases in air fare, as a result of their shift to KKIA, would affect consumers.

Fernandes had said moving to KKIA was not feasible and economical. He said the high operating cost at the main terminal would force the airline to hike prices and consumers would have to pay more.

Currently the airport tax for domestic flights at Terminal 1 is RM9 and RM6 for Terminal 2 while for international flights the charges are RM65 and RM32 respectively.

But Goh argued that the taxes were fare and that consumers would not mind paying slightly more for better services.

No word from state government

He cited the new Malindo Air which exited from KLIA in Sepang and was doing well in this sector.

“Although the fares between both airlines are similar, Malindo Air is considered cheaper because the price includes luggage and light refreshments.“Passengers on Malindo Air can also enjoy movies during their journey while the seats are more comfortable,” he said.

He further added that travelers did not have to suffer the inconvenience of walking under the sun and rain during boarding times and KLIA had an aerobridge.

Goh said it was hard to believe that Air Asia, which has been in operations for more than 10 years, was unable to provide better services but expected preferences.

It was reported yesterday that the ongoing tussle between Air Asia and Malaysia Airport Berhard (MAB) would have an adverse effect on Sabah Tourism which last year grossed RM6.38 billion

Fernandes had reportedly said that the stalemate situation had forced Air Asia to put on the backburner its plans to make KK into its flight hub for north Asia and Australia routes.

Thus far the Sabah government has stayed away from the tussle between Air Asia and MAB.

Fernandes had reportedly met with Musa recently over the issue.