Open­ing Sarawak’s ru­ral air routes

The Star Malaysia - - Views - PHILIP WONG Di­rec­tor Sarawak In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Af­fairs

TRANS­PORT Min­is­ter Anthony Loke has agreed to the open­ing up of ru­ral air routes in Sarawak to com­mer­cial air­lines apart from cur­rent ser­vice provider, MASwings in a re­cent meet­ing with the Chief Min­is­ter.

This is great news for the peo­ple in Sarawak as it will make ru­ral towns more ac­ces­si­ble for po­ten­tial tourism de­vel­op­ment and also re­duce travel times be­tween th­ese places. Such a show of un­der­stand­ing from the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment of the needs of Sarawak is much ap­pre­ci­ated here as it will also af­fect the bot­tom line of MASwings, which un­til now has a mo­nop­oly of the routes.

As stated by the Min­is­ter, the gov­ern­ment un­der­stands the dif­fi­cul­ties faced by ru­ral folks in Sarawak when it comes to trans­porta­tion as the dis­tances are huge and the con­nect­ing roads not al­ways in good con­di­tions. The open­ing up of the ru­ral air routes (next year) will al­low for healthy com­pe­ti­tion and hope­fully lead to lower fares too.

How­ever, the re­al­ity is that the load fac­tor for th­ese routes might not make it con­ducive for other com­mer­cial air­lines to ven­ture into. There is also no men­tion or guar­an­tee that MASwings will con­tinue to op­er­ate th­ese ru­ral routes should the com­pe­ti­tion prove un­eco­nom­i­cal for them to do so.

Will that lead to the to­tal with­drawal of air con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween ru­ral towns and the main cen­tres in Sarawak if th­ese routes are found to be un­eco­nom­i­cal to op­er­ate?

Given the sce­nario here, it is to­tally un­re­al­is­tic to de­pend on air con­nec­tiv­ity for the de­vel­op­ment of ru­ral ar­eas in Sarawak due mainly to the small pop­u­la­tion and lack of in­dus­tries to sus­tain them.

Like in Penin­su­lar Malaysia, Sarawak needs road con­nec­tiv­ity to the ru­ral ar­eas to de­velop their po­ten­tial and to boost in­vest­ment.

Nev­er­the­less, bet­ter air con­nec­tiv­ity in Sarawak, be it ru­ral routes or in­ter­na­tional ones, is al­ways wel­comed and ap­pre­ci­ated by the peo­ple.

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