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Tan Sri Tony Fernandes paying a courtesy call to Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal at the State Administrative Centre here, today. - NSTP/EDMUND SAMUNTING

KOTA KINABALU: Asia’s leading low-cost carrier AirAsia plans to launch more direct international flights to the Tawau and Sandakan airports next year.

AirAsia Group Berhad chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes said the airline is currently setting up a connection between the two eastern Sabah towns to China, South Korea, Japan, and Asean countries.

“It’s something the Transport Ministry and the (Sabah) Chief Minister have talked to me about. We are ready to do it, and we can bring a lot of job opportunities and growth directly to Tawau and Sandakan.

“I would say we will start looking at January and February to launch them. It will be the winter period, when it can reach -20 degrees Celsius in China, Korea and Japan. So, we can promote the wonderful places, beaches and sunny weather Sabah has to offer,” he said.

Fernandes was speaking to reporters after paying a courtesy call to Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal at the State Administrative Centre here, today.

With Balikpapan, Kalimantan set to become Indonesia’s new capital, Fernandes said he foresees Sabah having a great opportunity to become a bigger travel hub, as it is strategically positioned between North Asia and Australia.

He also expressed confidence that the Sandakan and Tawau airports will be able to cater to a growing numbers of flights and passengers.

“Of course, Kota Kinabalu will still be our priority, and we are also looking at starting a direct flight from Seoul (to Kota Kinabalu) in August, next year. We could do so much in Kota Kinabalu if we could get the KKIA Terminal 2 (T2) to reopen," he added.

Saying that he had raised the issue of T2’s reopening with Shafie, Fernandes added that the Chief Minister appeared to be supportive of the matter; and stressed that it is time for regional administrations to have more say and investments for their airports.

During the closed-door meeting, Fernandes also mooted promoting local products via AirAsia’s e-commerce platform www.ourshop.com, promoting Sabah’s international convention centre, and creating more pilots for AirAsia through the Layang-Layang Flying Academy.

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