State-owned charter carrier Hornbill Skyways (Kuching) is to set up a boutique airline in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, located in northwest Borneo Island, to provide air access, drive tourism, and boost agricultural exports, according to Sarawak’s caretaker chief minister, Abang Abdul Rahman Johari Abang Openg.

He made the remarks at the launch event of a new MYR108 million ringgit (USD25.5 million) short take-off and landing airport (STOLport) in Bebuling, Spaoh on November 30, reports the Malaysian national news agency, Bernama.

Popularly known as Abang Johari, the minister said Sarawak needed its own small airline – with aircraft carrying about 100 to 200 passengers – in order to not be dependent on other commercial carriers to meet its demand for export of agricultural products, and the promotion of travel and tourism.

He added the airline's operations would be hub focused. The initial plan was to provide direct flights from Sarawak to Kuala Lumpur International, Singapore Changi, Thailand, Indonesia, and Hong Kong International.

Abang Johari assured reporters that the plan was not an empty promise, that he had already calculated the cost of setting up the airline, and that it would not be a financial burden on the state. However, the fruition of the plan will likely depend on the re-election of his Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) coalition in the upcoming state polls on December 18, 2021.

As reported, this is not the first time that the Sarawak government has touted the establishment of a state airline with Hornbill Skyways. In 2019, Abang Johari already mooted the idea as an urgent priority.

According to its website, Hornbill Skyways is a passenger charter carrier that uses a fleet of one Challenger 600/601/604, one Beech (twin turboprop) King Air 350i, two Beechcraft Super King Air B200s, and ten helicopters.