Media statement by Liew Chin Tong in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, 29th December 2011:
Firefly cutbacks mean fewer Sabahans and Sarawakians will be home for Christmas 2012
Travel to Sabah and Sarawak will become more difficult and very likely more expensive now that Firefly is ceasing its jet operations to Sabah and Sarawak. The MAS-Air Asia Collaboration is causing many flights to be stopped. It appears that Air Asia is the chief beneficiary while ordinary Malaysians suffer. With MAS and Firefly curtailing flights, Air Asia is emerging as the main, or sometimes only airline serving certain routes. For example, the Sandakan-Kuala Lumpur route is now a monopoly by Air Asia1.
Fewer flights and higher ticket prices do not just inconvenience travellers. It is bad for the entire economy. Not-for-profit research institute Research for Social Advancement (REFSA) has pointed out that:
Fewer flights means less work for airline crew and airport ground personnel. Which leads to less employment and smaller incomes and less spending power;
Fewer travellers also means less income and employment opportunities for taxis, hotels, cafes, hawkers and all the businesses that provide the services that travellers need;
Less tangible, but in the longer-run, just as importantly, fewer flights also means fewer opportunities for people to meet, collaborate, innovate and generate economic activity.
The MAS-Air Asia Collaboration should result in benefits for all. But it appears Firefly is having its wings clipped. Firstly, Parliament was told that thousands of Johoreans have been frustrated by flight cancellations; and it has been reported that passenger traffic at Subang airport, Firefly's base, is down by 30% since the collaboration was announced, Then, Khazanah Nasional masterminded the hasty departure of Firefly managing director Datuk Eddy Leong. He abruptly resigned with just over two weeks notice, and left on 10 Dec. Leong will be joining Destination Resorts and Hotels, a unit of Khazanah.
Firefly staff are already anxious about their fate, following the announcement of the MAS-Air Asia collaboration in August. That collaboration brought their fierce competitor, Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, into their parent company. Khazanah might well be sending Firefly into a nosedive. The captain has now been taken out. The former 'enemy' is now in top management. New MAS CEO Encik Ahmad Jauhari, while highly regarded, has no airline experience. Leong and his experience would have been very helpful as a counterweight to Tan Sri Tony.
Now, it is also natural that many of the crew would want to bail out as soon as they can. Firefly will have imploded from within. Firefly's demise would be terrible news for the many travellers like me, who benefited from Leong's success in growing Firefly, which gave us so many more flight options.
Increasing connectivity, lowering costs, encouraging competition and widening consumer choice are crucial for Malaysia to grow and develop.
But GLCs Khazanah and CIMB are leading this MAS-Air Asia collaboration that allows a previously fierce competitor in the form of Tan Sri Tony Fernandez into the fold of MAS to "collaborate" to the loss of thousands of Malaysians striving to earn a living and struggling for a better life.
This monopolistic collaboration must be cancelled before tens of thousands more Malaysians are affected by flight cancellations, lower incomes and poorer job prospects.
Allow newly appointed MAS CEO Encik Ahmad Jauhari a free hand. Let the talented Tan Sri Tony Fernandes focus on Air Asia. The economy will be more vibrant, ordinary Malaysians will benefit, and competition will make Air Asia and MAS stronger.
And let there be more flights, so that our east Malaysian friends can continue to fly home safely, cheaply and conveniently.
* Liew Chin Tong, DAP International Secretary & MP for Bukit Bendera
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