Officials from the Malaysian state of Sabah have tempered expectations about it starting its own airline in the immediate future. The step back comes as the neighbouring state of Sarawak pushes ahead with its plans to take over MASwings (MY, Kota Kinabalu).

Last week, Sabah Air Aviation Sdn Bhd (SAASB) chairman Kenny Chau walked back comments made several months ago that Sabah was likely to use SAASB to start its own passenger airline. "Perhaps it will be five years from now […]. That is why it’s a long-term plan," he told local outlets. Chau had previously said the Sabah government would use his state-owned general aviation business to start scheduled passenger flights as early as 2024 using three leased aircraft.

Chau's cautious tone is reportedly due to the recent collapse of MYAirline. He says it reinforces the need for any new startup to have a solid business case. "What happened to MYAirline was due to financial difficulties. That’s why we need a well-thought-out business plan.”

Chau also remains open to doing a deal with Sarawak to acquire a stake in their airline, given their startup plans are more progressed. "I congratulate the Sarawak government for making a big step toward the acquisition of equity of MASwings," he said. “The Sabah government certainly aims at moving toward the same direction."

Sarawak Premier Abang Johari Tun Openg recently said he was open to talking with Sabah officials about them participating in his planned takeover of MASwings. Using the resources of the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, the premier wants to use a locally-based airline to improve connectivity between Borneo and cities beyond Malaysia.

Sabah's capital, Kota Kinabalu, and Sarawak's capital, Kuching, are among Malaysia's top five busiest airports and are already well connected to the Malaysian mainland by various operators, including Malaysia Airlines, Firefly, and AirAsia, while MASwings connects both cities to each other and other airports around Borneo.