KOTA KINABALU: Sabah's geographic location means it is the ideal site for any commercial airline looking for a hub in the region, says Parti Warisan Sabah vice-president Junz Wong.
Speaking to FMT, he said Kota Kinabalu is in the middle of busy airline routes and the distances from other cities, particularly those in the Far East, are shorter compared with other international airports such as Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) or the Changi Airport in Singapore.
"I think Sabah will benefit a lot, especially in terms of the tourism and service industry if we become a hub for airlines, for example to AirAsia X.
"I remember AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes had said that he would be more than willing to invest money in Sabah to build a new Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) and make Sabah the hub for AirAsia X.
"Unfortunately, we lost that opportunity when the current Sabah government chose to comply with the federal transport ministry and allowed AirAsia to transfer its operations to the current Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) instead of allowing it to continue operations at Terminal Two" he said.
Fernandes had said that his plan was to operate long-haul AirAsia X out of Sabah besides launching new regional routes from the state.
However, the plan was scratched after the airline was moved to Terminal One.
It was revealed that AirAsia had brought in more than 30 million tourists to Sabah between 2009 and 2014.
It had also opened up new routes for Kota Kinabalu, including nine international ones, such as Hangzhou, Shenzen and Jakarta as well as new domestic routes such as Penang and Kota Bharu in Kelantan.
The only thing Fernandes had needed then was an airport and even pledged to spend money to build a new airport where AirAsia could operate from.
He promised that such an opportunity would bring with it employment opportunities and extra tourist receipts.
Wong said such an opportunity should not have been missed by the current government.
"The Sabah government should have supported Fernandes but instead they chose not to go against the wishes of their political masters in Putrajaya and the opportunity was lost.
"Now Denpasar in Bali is benefiting from our loss because AirAsia X has already made the airport their hub" he said.
Wong said the Sabah government would do well to take back KKIA from Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) and manage it itself, which is perfectly possible.
However, he said if that is not possible, then the Sabah government should build its own airport which they can control, supported by a professional body.
"A new airport with a new runway to cater for bigger aircraft can persuade Fernandes and other low-cost carriers to build their hub in Sabah.
"It could still convince Fernandes to make his dream come true of making Kota Kinabalu the hub for AirAsia X because, compared with Bali, we are in the middle of all flight routes" he said.