Tawau and Sandakan are expected to welcome direct international flights brought in by low-cost carrier AirAsia from early next year.
AirAsia Group Bhd chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes said they are looking at linking both cities to destinations in China, Korea, Japan and Asean countries.
“We are looking at January, February. I want to launch it during the winter period to promote the wonderful beaches here.We are ready to do it now as we believe we can bring lot of jobs and growth directly to Tawau and Sandakan.
“So I will fly to Tawau right after this to announce to our staff,” he told reporters after paying a courtesy call to Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal on Friday (Oct 18).
However, he said Kota Kinabalu would remain a priority hub as plans are afoot for KK-Seoul flights from next August.
Fernandes reiterated their ongoing plan to push the re-opening of Kota Kinabalu International Airport Terminal 2 (KKIA2), where AirAsia formerly operated before its shift to KKIA Terminal 1 under the Transport Ministry’s order.
“We can do so much in KK if we can get Terminal 2 reopened, but I want to start developing Sandakan, Tawau as well as Sarawak.
“The meeting with the CM was also to relay if we can get Terminal 2, we can grow to 15 million passengers (from the current eight million passengers), our estimate is to create 33,000 jobs and bring in RM150bil into Sabah’s economy. It is such a waste to see the empty terminal.
“If you move us back, it also allows Terminal 1 to bring in more airlines like Qatar Airways and Emirates, so you need to do this to release capacity,” he added.
Asked about the current development for such discussions, Tony said he remained optimistic and believed they are “making headway” as the Transport Ministry is opened to talks.
Asked about Shafie’s response to shifting AirAsia’s operations back to Terminal 2, he said,”I think he is supportive, but the ball is in Malaysia Airports (court). It is something the state and federal level have to work out.
“But one of the reasons why the idea was put (on the backburner) because there was talk about building a new airport in Kota Kinabalu.
“But that would take five to seven years to materialise. That is why we continued the discussion about Terminal 2,” he added.
He said expanding the airport’s capacity was crucial in conjunction with Visit Malaysia 2020.
AirAsia currently operates 511 weekly flights into Kota Kinabalu.