AirAsia drops Kuching-China flight

KUCHING, 22 February 2019: In the short space of just a year AirAsia, once proclaimed a hero, could now be heading for villain status.

Political leaders are unhappy that the low-cost airline will suspend its direct Kuching-Shenzen service, 28 February, according to a report in the Borneo post, this week.

Established 26 December 2017, the daily flight was heralded as a breakthrough for tourism being the first direct service between Kuching and a city in Mainland China.

Borneo Post quoted AirAsia saying direct flights between Kuching and Shenzen would end for “commercial reasons,” 14 months after the launch.

The airline argues that it will still serve the route offering Shenzhen residents its “Fly-Thru” service that connects passengers with a flight to Kuching at the airline’s Kuala Lumpur hub.

But that option will clearly increase the end-to-end roundtrip fare as it based on four sector fares each with add-on fees for checked luggage and other services.

Critics expressed disappointment with some saying they doubted if it was purely a commercial decision, because passenger load were higher than 75%.

At the time of the launch in December 2017, AirAsia commercial head Spencer Lee said: “We are excited to connect Kuching to Shenzhen and add international routes to East Malaysia. Sarawak is one of the most popular investment destinations in Malaysia for Chinese companies…we believe that this route will not only strengthen and open many opportunities for international trade, foreign direct investment (FDI), and e-commerce, but also continue to empower the state’s economy.”

Obviously, it didn’t and critics told the Borneo Post they feared there might have been political, or federal government pressure, to force the low-cost airline company to make such a decision saying “based on commercial viability, it is very hard to believe.”

Sarawak is celebrating its Visit Sarawak Year and having direct flights from cities in China was considered a key element to boost visitor arrivals.

Tourism players in Sarawak fear inconvenience of connecting with a domestic flight out of Kuala Lumpur could discourage travellers.

“That is a very bad package for Sarawak. Tourism will suffer because most overseas tourists are reluctant to come to Sarawak via KL, because there will be added costs, expenses and added travel time and that is not going to be ideal and helpful to Sarawak’s tourism,” was the main gist of criticism levelled at the airline.

AirAsia’s Lee stated that during the launch in late 2017 introducing the route was in line with the vision to make Kuching a regional hub.

“In line with the government’s efforts to improve the tourism sector and the addition of aviation routes in Sarawak… we are committed to continuing to develop this hub.”

In just a year that vision dissipated as commercial considerations took precedent. For low-cost airlines critics wonder if talk is cheap?

To achieve its long-term goals for tourism Sarawak needs a stronger commitment from Malaysia’s leading airline.

AirAsia flies to 12 destinations from Kuching with 229 weekly one-way flights. In addition to Shenzhen, the airline flies from Kuching to Singapore, Pontianak, Miri, Sibu, Bintulu, Kota Kinabalu, Johor Bahru, Kota Bharu, Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi.

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