AirAsia pays tribute to the Sabah tourism icon with aircraft naming

KOTA KINABALU: The late Datuk Irene Benggon Charuruks has been given a special tribute by AirAsia by having her name on one of the airline's aeroplanes.

The former Sabah Tourism Board general manager has been an instrumental figure in the state industry for putting Sabah on the world map and making it a tourist hotspot.

Capital A's chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes said back in 2001, Irene was the only person who took the news of the former and Datuk Kamarudin Meranun acquiring an airline seriously which led to the establishment of Sabah as a hub.

He added after establishing Kota Kinabalu as a hub in 2002, Kota Kinabalu became AirAsia's second biggest hub after Kuala Lumpur.

As the biggest airline with the widest connectivity in the state, AirAsia now flies 21 routes including domestic and international destinations with 331 flights weekly from Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau.

"Sabah is such a special place for AirAsia, where we have grown exponentially flying more than 80 million passengers to/from Sabah since 2002 until November 2023.

However, no matter how successful we are, we will never forget those people who helped us along the way, and Datuk Irene was one of those who truly believed in us.

"So Irene, this special livery is for you, it will be the first plane we ever named and we dedicated it to you. Look out for it when it is flying in the skies especially over Sabah when you look down on us. Rest in peace and lots of love from all of us at AirAsia," he said during the launching of the livery at Kota Kinabalu International Airport here.

AirAsia operates flights from three destinations in Sabah: Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, and Tawau, to various destinations, including Singapore, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, Taipei, Philippines and more.

The airline is also planning to introduce new routes, such as Seoul to Kota Kinabalu, among other exciting destinations in the upcoming year and beyond.

Present were Sabah Tourism Board chairman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai, Capital A Executive Chairman Kamarudin Meranun as well as Irene's family members.

Joniston said it would be an understatement to say the late Irene played a pivotal role in revolutionising Sabah's tourism sector.

"When I reported for duty at Sabah Tourism Board, I recalled her asking about my vision and I shared my dream of promoting rural tourism.

"Her encouragement and understanding paved the way for positive growth in rural community-based tourism. Datuk Irene didn't just inspire, she enabled dreams and her leadership made the potential we both saw in the kampungs a reality.

"This tribute resonates deeply as it aligns with Datuk Irene's possession for accessibility allowing travellers to experience the beauty of Sabah she so loved."

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