KUALA LUMPUR 2012/09/22: Malaysian Airline System Bhd (MAS) and AirAsia Bhd are both eyeing Sabah as their eastern hub to serve the lucrative North Asian and Australian markets.
Although competition between the erstwhile partners would be intense, this would not be a zero-sum game as the airlines serve different markets.
"Each of them serve different markets. MAS would not tap into the low-yield passenger market anymore. They are very focused on the niche market which is the mid-to-premium segment whereas AirAsia will still focus on the low-cost market," OSK Research analyst Ahmad Maghfur Usman told Business Times.
The national carrier announced on Thursday that it will be adding three international routes from Kota Kinabalu (KK) effective December 2012.
MAS will also raise frequencies to an existing international route from KK.
The sectors involved were not named in the announcement.
An industry source said this development was made possible with the ongoing arrivals of the 160-seater Boeing B737-800 aircraft to replace the older 144-seater B737-400.
MAS had ordered 45 of the newer aircraft in 2010.
Early this year, MAS withdrew its KK-Tokyo, KK-Seoul and KK-Perth services.
However, this was done to return the B737-400s which it had leased and to bring into service the B7373-800.
In the Thursday's statement, MAS group chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said although four international routes from KK were suspended in January and February this year, the airline will continue to review the situation and are now finalising plans to introduce flights between the Sabah capital and three cities in the region.
"We will announce details of this development in the near future once we have the clearance from the regulatory authorities," he said.
Ahmad Jauhari added that the additional routes and more flights to an existing international route are expected to improve in-bound tourist arrivals to Sabah and raise Kota Kinabalu's significance as the national airline's eastern hub of Malaysia.
A total of seven weekly services for these four routes will be operated using the latest 160-seater B737-800 aircraft.
Apart from MAS, the airline's wholly-owned subsidiary, MASwings, will also start international operations this year linking Kota Kinabalu to Brunei and also Tawau to Tarakan in Indonesia.
Meanwhile, AirAsia had on Thursday announced that it will start flying from Kota Kinabalu to Cebu in the Philippines in December this year.
The budget carrier also said it wanted Sabah to be developed as the biggest low-cost carrier hub in the Pacific region.
MAS has embarked on a fleet renewal programme with a firm order of 45 B737-800 and 15 Airbus A330-300 aircraft with delivery of the new B737-800 and the A330-300 to continue throughout 2012 and 2013.
In addition, four of the six Airbus A380 it ordered joined MAS' fleet this year and the remaining two by first quarter next year.