The Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) and the federal government will develop four new locations in an effort to expand the subsidised Rural Air Service (RAS) programme in Sarawak and Sabah.
Mavcom executive operating officer Azmir Zain said the proposed development of the new locations had been approved by the federal government while discussion is ongoing with the Sarawak government, particularly pertaining to the allocation of land.
He said three of the new locations would be in Sarawak (Bukit Mabong/Kapit, Belaga and Long Silat) and one in Long Pasia, Sabah.
"Upon careful study, Mavcom has recommended for the creation of the new routes using the allocation that was supposed to be used to subsidise the urban-to-urban routes in Sarawak, which had been removed from the RAS programme.
"New short take-off and landing (STOL) port will be constructed in all the new locations to serve both the rural folks in Bukit Mabong and Kapit, Belaga, Long Silat and Long Pasia," he said at a media briefing here yesterday.
Azmir said once the infrastructure is in place, MASwings can start the RAS operation to the new locations.
In addition to that, he said Mavcom has also proposed for new services at some of the existing RAS locations in Sarawak, adding that MASwings' ATR aircraft is already operating the Kuching-Limbang route three times a week while the Twin Otter aircraft operates once a week between Bario and Long Seridan, and Bario and Long Lellang.
Amir said moving forward, Mavcom had recommended that the federal government should re-channel the subsidies being spent on urban-to-urban connectivity more towards urban-to-rural and rural-to-rural routes in order to bring better benefits to the rural folks in Sarawak.
He noted that a study by Mavcom had found that despite the intention of RAS to benefit rural folks, quite a number of the routes being operated in the programme before this were urban-to-urban routes like Kuching-Miri, Kuching-Sibu, and Kuching-Bintulu - yet they were under the subsidised federal government RAS programme.
He said the same thing happened in Sabah where the RAS was servicing the Kota Kinabalu-Tawau and Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan routes.
In view of that, he said Mavcom has recommended to the government to remove certain routes from the RAS subsidy programme. These routes include Kuching-Sibu, Kuching-Miri, Kuching-Bintulu, Kota Kinabalu-Miri and Kota Kinabalu-Sibu.
"Even with the removal of MASwings from these routes, there is still air connectivity for these places," he assured.
Azmir noted that another finding was that if commercial operators are given the opportunity to operate these routes, they are able to charge lower air fares compared to the subsidised air fares under RAS.
He said aside from that, when MASwings ceased its operation along these routes, the commercial carriers may see this as an opportunity for them to increase their services.
This, he added, has already happened in Sabah.
"When it was announced last September that MASwings would no longer be operating the Kota Kinabalu-Tawau route, Malindo Air then became interested, and from December last year, they have been operating the route.
He said in line with Mavcom's mandate, the commission 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.