AirAsia wants to get back Sibu-KK route
By Nancy Lai
KOTA KINABALU: The exclusive rights of MASwings to service rural air routes in the country has been given as the reason behind the termination of AirAsia’s flights between Sibu and Kota Kinabalu.
AirAsia chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes said MASwings had protested to the government about AirAsia servicing the route.
MASwings has exclusive rights to the route and the government has no choice but to instruct AirAsia to stop servicing it, he said.
“We (AirAsia) are appealing the decision because we think it is important for our network. Many people from Sibu want to travel to Kota Kinabalu and connect to other destinations and vice versa.
“So that is the reason. We would like to continue covering the route because it is good for tourism and for the economy. We were caught by surprise by the MASWing’ protest and to learn that the airline has exclusive rights to the rural air service routes.
Tony, when explaining about the termination of the Sibu-Kota Kinabalu flights to reporters here yesterday, said AirAsia would ask the government to open up rural routes to commercial airlines.
He explained that to allow a commercial airline to service rural routes would mean that the government would spend less money on subsidy to MASWings.
“Then everyone can save more money,” he said.
On MASwings’ protest, Tony believed that it was because the airline had been losing money servicing the route.
“If you are losing money on the route and AirAsia comes in, you lose more money and the government pays for it, so there is logic to it. The question is, if a commercial airline can make money on it, does the government need to subsidise the route?
“MASwings should be really concentrating on routes for public service that you cannot make money on,” he said.
Tony added that AirAsia will be refunding those who had purchased tickets for the Sibu-Kota Kinabalu sector either in cash or credit for another AirAsia flight because it was the airline’s responsibility and not the customers’ fault.
Early this week, it was reported that AirAsia would cease its KK-Sibu direct flights as it had received a directive from the government last week.
The report quoted a spokesperson for AirAsia’s head office in Kuala Lumpur as saying that the airline had no alternative but to follow the directive and stop flying the route from Oct 25.
AirAsia started its daily Sibu to Kota Kinabalu flights in April this year, and operates with its Airbus A380 which has a capacity of 180 passengers.
Meanwhile, it is learnt that the Transport Ministry is looking into AirAsia’s appeal and would come up with a solution soon.
A source said the ministry was also studying the initial agreement which gave AirAsia the rights to service the Sibu-Kota Kinabalu route.
The same source said that the government would have to look into the definition of ‘rural air routes’.
“Does the term ‘rural routes’ apply to Sibu-Miri, Sibu-Kuching or Sibu-KK sectors? The general perception is that routes linking smaller towns are considered ‘rural’.
“The government has to redefine the meaning of rural routes,” the source said.