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MAS: Don't open Asean skies early. Singapore stands to gain more than Malaysia

By B.K. SIDHU

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia Airlines (MAS) does not want the Government to bring forward the timeframe for the Asean Open Skies for fear that Singapore will benefit more than Malaysia.

However, MAS’ budget airline Firefly is keen to fly to Singapore and Indonesia.

“We do not discount flying to any destination, including Singapore,” MAS managing director Datuk Idris Jala told reporters after a briefing on the recent spate of delays of MAS flights and on the rural air services that it will be operating by Oct 1.

The market is abuzz with talk that MAS, via Firefly, is keen to fly to Changi. The move will also ensure that MAS remains a competitor not just as a full services carrier but also in the low-cost fare arena when the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore route is opened to competition.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy hinted this week of the possibility of the original deadline of Jan 1, 2009 being brought forward for several routes under the Asean Open Skies policy since several low-cost carriers had requested for it. However, this is possible only if all the affected governments agree.

The hottest route that budget carriers seek now is the KL-Singapore sector, currently monopolised by MAS and Singapore Airlines, with a round-trip costing more than RM800, inclusive of taxes and fees.

Jala said MAS had submitted a proposal to the Government for Firefly to add more domestic routes to its loop and hoped for an answer soon. However, he declined to name the destinations. Firefly was recently given the rights to fly from Subang.

“We have submitted an official request and are still talking to the Government. It will be (good) for the community as Firefly is a community airline,” Jala said.

Firefly is based in Penang and uses two 50-seat turboprops for its flights to Langkawi, Kota Baru, Kuala Terengganu, Kuantan, Phuket and Koh Samui in Thailand.

On the bringing forward of the timeframe, Jala said Malaysia had more to lose than Singapore.

“I think Singapore would be the winner as the local airlines are not ready to operate in a fully liberalised environment. We need more time,” he explained.

To him even some routes in Malaysia were not fully liberalised since Firefly was not allowed to fly on routes that AirAsia flew. Therefore, it would seem unfair to ‘open the skies’ sooner.

“When we are talking about an even playing field, there should be evenness here and there,” Jala said.

He urged that the original deadline remained so as to give airline operators more time to prepare.

But budget carriers do not agree. Low-cost players like AirAsia, and Singapore’s Tiger Airways and Jetsar Asia are hoping to exploit the potential of the KL-Singapore route sooner rather than later.

Source: The Star, Malaysia on 19 Jul 2007.

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