KUCHING: The Sarawak government is seriously looking into its own airline because it wants to have more direct flights into the state.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said yesterday more direct flights would attract more tourists to Sarawak.

He told a press conference after launching the AirAsia Sarawak Livery Campaign at Kuching International Airport (KIA) here that the government was now looking into the details of the airline.

“It will not be a big one yet, just a small airline that will connect Kuching with other strategic destinations in the region,”

Abang Johari revealed that the Sarawak government was looking into direct Hong Kong-Kuching, Bangkok-Kuching, Manila-Kuching, and Jakarta-Kuching flights.

Foto Unit Komunikasi Awam Sarawak – UKAS

“Sarawak has the tourism attractions but now the big problem is that there is no direct connectivity from certain regions,” he pointed out.

He said nowadays tourists prefer direct flights from their hometowns to a destination, rather than having to transit from one point to another.Asked whether the proposal was a revisit of the old proposal when Sarawak wanted to take over MASWings, Abang Johari replied: “Yes, because at that time, MASWings was reluctant to sell the airline to Sarawak.

“Now we have a few options to set up our own small airline. I expect it will take off as soon as possible. So, please give me time to work on it. The upfront cost to set up is not that high.”

Abang Johari added that Sarawak had the Hornbill Skyways that had long been established and must be expanded commercially.

“Hornbill Skyways can work together with its peers on what is best because tourists want direct connectivity,” he stressed.

The chief minister said even AirAsia was facing difficulties getting the right slot for the Kuching-Shenzhen direct flight.

“We have a lot of people coming in from Jakarta but they have to go through Pontianak to reach here,” he said.

Abang Johari also said he had been frustrated with MASWings and AirAsia ever since he was Tourism Minister.

“We talked to AirAsia Group Bhd’s group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandez before about the Jakarta-Kuching direct flight. But halfway through, the airline stepped back, so finished-lah,” he revealed.

The Sarawak government, he added, tried to work with MASWings but “there were so many hurdles”.