Sarawak Premier Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg says his planned state-owned airline would likely fly to Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Speaking to local media on the sidelines of a September 6 transport conference in Kuching, the premier said the Sarawak state government was advancing its plans to takeover MASwings (MY, Kota Kinabalu) and establish it as a Sarawak-based airline. MASwings is currently owned by the Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG). The Malaysian government ultimately owns that entity.

"The strategic advantage of having a Sarawak airline will allow us control over route preferences," he said. “We will not be limited to the decisions of private airlines because we can tailor our flight offerings to cater to destinations in the Philippines, Indonesia and also to Bandar Seri Begawan."

Openg has campaigned for a locally-based airline for some time now. He argues Sarawak residents need better connectivity and more competitive airfares. However, Sarawak's capital, Kuching, is home to one of Malaysia's busiest airports. According to ch-aviation PRO airports data, eight scheduled passenger airlines provide almost 62,000 weekly seats in and out of Kuching. The largest operator at the airport is AirAsia, with a 60.97% market share (measured by the number of weekly seats offered). That airline is followed by Malaysia Airlines (19.11%); Firefly (8.57%); MYAirline (6.12%), Scoot (2.04%); Batik Air Malaysia (1.84%); Indonesia AirAsia (0.87%); and Royal Brunei Airlines (0.49%). Those carriers connect Kuching to 18 airports in five countries, although a sizeable portion of the total available flights (42.15%) operate on the Kuching - Kuala Lumpur International city pair.

Openg is also keen to exploit the available cargo space in the aircraft his potential airline will have. "When we can be seamlessly connected, our industries and markets can overlap to create new opportunities for trade, investment and economic growth," he said. "This integration allows for efficient movement of goods, capital and people, reducing trade barriers and increasing our region’s economic competitiveness [...] Sarawak’s goal extends to expanding our exports into this region."

MASwings presently operates a fleet of 16 turboprops, including ten ATR72-500s and six DHC-6-400s. Beyond Brunei's Bandar Seri Begawan and Balikpapan in Indonesia's Kalimantan province, all located on the island of Borneo, these aircraft do not have the ability to fly to Openg's flagged destinations. MASwings currently operates throughout Borneo, with its primary base in Kota Kinabalu in the neighbouring state of Sabah. That state is also considering starting its own airline.