Sabah, Sarawak to get major share in airline

KUCHING - Sabah and Sarawak would have a 60 to 70 per cent share in the restructured regional airline MASwings, Sarawak Tourism and Heritage Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said yesterday.

"I cannot reveal too much as MAS (Malaysia Airlines) is a public-listed company.

"But it will give Sabah and Sarawak a substantial share in the airline."

He said this at his home in Petra Jaya to provide details on the restructuring exercise which Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak disclosed when opening the Jelajah Janji Ditepati carnival on Saturday.

MASwings, set up to operate the rural air services in the two states, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MAS.

Abang Johari, who started the push for the two states to have a controlling stake in the airline last year, described the talks as being quite advanced and added that the deal could be wrapped up before the year-end.

He said the rationale for having control of MASwings was to give Sabah and Sarawak the right to exploit opportunities in the Asian travel and tourism business.

"We not only need direct connectivity. We have to compete with other airlines. This region will be lucrative. It is important we have a say."

Although the future of the airline is still being thrashed out, its operations would no longer be confined to servicing rural communities in Sabah and Sarawak and flying to some destinations on Borneo island.

MASwings now flies to Brunei from Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. It also flies to Tarakan, Pontianak and Balikpapan in Kalimantan.

Abang Johari said the restructured MASwings would fly primarily to east Asian destinations in South Korea, Japan, China and Hong Kong. It would also fly to India.

"The network we're planning will have a huge impact on the development of the tourism economy in the two states."

The airline will no longer have a turbo-prop fleet. Abang Johari said MASwings would purchase Boeing 737-sized aircraft to service the proposed east Asian routes.

Some of its Twin Otters, he said, would be retrofitted with floats to land on the Bakun and Batang Ai dam reservoirs and the Batang Lupar in Sri Aman.

Bakun and Batang Ai are being developed as major eco-tourism areas while the Benak tidal bore festival on the Batang Lupar in Sri Aman has become a major tourist draw.

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