The Sarawak state government has agreed "in-principle" to acquire MASwings (MY, Kota Kinabalu), Sarawak Premier Abang Johari Openg told The Borneo Post. MASwings is a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines (MH, Kuala Lumpur International), which in turn is wholly owned by the Malaysian government via sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah.

Johari Openg is attempting to set up a Sarawak-based scheduled carrier to improve connectivity in and out of the state and put downward pressure on fares. To date, his proposals have centred on local charter and general aviation business, Hornbill Skyways (Kuching), operating the airline. Kuala Lumpur-based federal politicians, including the prime minister, have voiced support for the plan.

However, according to Johari Openg, the plans have changed. "There is a proposal from the federal government for us (the Sarawak government) to take over MASwings," he said on June 15. "We have agreed in principle to take over MASwings."

Operating a fleet of ten ATR72-600s and six DHC-6-400s, MASwings services regional destinations in Malaysia, primarily linking destinations in Borneo, which is home to Sarawak and Sabah. The airline's main base is Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, while the DHC-6-400 base is at Miri in Sarawak.

Miri Airport, the busiest in Sarawak, handles up to 100 daily scheduled aircraft movements. In addition to MASwings, five scheduled airlines service the airport, including Malaysia Airlines, MYAirline, Firefly, AirAsia, and Scoot. These carriers fly to 19 destinations, with all but one (Singapore Changi), ports within Malaysia.

This is not the first time the Sarawak government has attempted to secure a stake in MASwings. A 2012 bid fell over, as did a second attempt three years later. The 2015 bid, which proposed turning MASwings into an international operator serving neighbouring nations, reportedly collapsed because of difficulties negotiating with Malaysia Airlines.

This time, the offer came from the Malaysian government, and while Johari Openg said he was interested, the state government still needed to do due diligence on the deal. He added that he still wanted an airline that flew beyond Borneo. The premier says he wants to be able to fly to other regional destinations, including Kuala Lumpur International, which MASwings does not presently service.

“The idea is for us to moderate the airfares, particularly within Malaysia," Johari Openg said. “At the moment, MASwings cannot fly to KL. We want to fly to KL as well as Singapore, so there has to be international routes."