By DASHVEENJIT KAUR
The development of a Rural Air Services (RAS) programme in East Malaysia is vital to the economic growth of Sabah and Sarawak as it would further facilitate trade and tourism activities for both the states.
The Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) said in a statement that measures should be implemented to support the growth of the aviation industry in East Malaysia that is also expected to become more competitive regionally.
The RAS programme is also integral in the development of the two states as it provides a key service to communities to not only obtain basic necessities, but empowers small businesses to grow and allows children from these communities to access better education.
RAS is a not-for-profit air service carried out in the interior of East Malaysia where air transport is essential to connect people there with other parts of the country.
In realising the aim, the Ministry of Transport recently signed an agreement with MASwings to operate 40 RAS routes in Sabah and Sarawak, for the 2019-2024 period, under a new Public Service Obligation (PSO) agreement.
Six RAS routes — namely Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan, Kota Kinabalu-Tawau, Kota Kinabalu-Miri, Kuching-Miri, Kuching-Bintulu and Kuching-Sibu — were also reclassified as fully commercial routes effective Jan 1, 2019.
These routes no longer fulfil the PSO definition and cannot be categorised as RAS in view of them being jointly operated by MASwings and other commercial airlines.
Mavcom said an improved RAS programme will benefit passengers in Sabah and Sarawak and the sector as a whole.
“The recent announcement by the government of the possibility of opening new additional RAS routes, including Long Pasia in Sabah, as well as Kapit, Bukit Mabong, Belaga and Long Silat in Sarawak (pending infrastructure readiness) — reflects the true spirit of RAS.
“In addition to the possible new routes, MASwings is also required to introduce new routes for several RAS destinations in stages,” Mavcom said.
The RAS services are for Limbang-Kuching, Long Lellang- Bario, Long Seridan-Bario, as well as special cargo services between Miri and Bario, Ba’kelalan, Long Seridan, Long Lellang, Long Akah dan Long Banga (one weekly flight per route).
In line with Mavcom’s mandate, the commission said it will continue to ensure that RAS is provided to passengers in the most efficient and effective manner, as well as to ensure the optimal use of government subsidies for the continued air intra-connectivity of Sabah and Sarawak.
“To ensure passenger welfare is prioritised, the monitoring system for RAS has been enhanced and will involve passenger feedback.
“Given the clear importance of RAS, the commission will continue to carefully monitor operations, engage with various local stakeholders and look for further opportunities for RAS to better serve the communities of Sabah and Sarawak,” it added.