Sunday, April 19, 2009

New cheap Singapore-Malaysia flights

CONSCIOUS travellers can look forward to more low-cost flights and new air links between Singapore and popular destinations in Malaysia.

Carriers on both sides have been given the green light to operate between Singapore and six new destinations in Malaysia - Ipoh, Kuala Terengganu, Kuantan, Malacca, Sandakan and Tawau.

The move is also expected to further develop Singapore's reputation as a travel hub for the region.

Officials from both nations, who met here yesterday, also agreed to bump up the number of flights to Penang, Langkawi, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, the Transport Ministry said in a statement.

The lifting of restrictions, with effect from June, is expected to benefit consumers and boost the economies on both sides of the Causeway.

It follows several rounds of liberalisation that started in February last year, when low-cost carriers Tiger Airways, Jetstar Asia and AirAsia were given the all-clear to operate a limited number of Singapore-Kuala Lumpur flights. Prior to that, the route had been dominated by Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Malaysia Airlines for more than three decades.

All restrictions on the Singapore-KL route were lifted last December.

In November last year, the two governments also agreed to the partial opening of the Singapore-East Malaysia sector.

The opening of the new destinations and more flights to existing markets are expected to benefit the budget airlines, which for years have been pushing for more access between the two countries.

Now that the governments have signed the expanded air services deal, carriers that are keen to operate the new services will have to submit their applications to their respective authorities.

Tiger Airways and Jetstar Asia plan to do just that.

Jetstar Asia chief executive officer Chong Phit Lian said Penang, Langkawi and Ipoh are high on its agenda.

She said: 'This is a positive not just for travellers here but also for Singapore as an air hub. We will work with our partner airlines to see how we can develop and market the new routes.'

Jetstar Asia is 49 per cent owned by Australia's Qantas Airways, which also owns Jetstar Airways in Australia.

Tiger Airways managing director Rosalynn Tay said the airline is 'encouraged' by the latest round of liberalisation.

'As a growing airline, Tiger Airways is always interested in new routes and additional capacity. We will be discussing with the regulatory authorities the opportunities this announcement provides.'

SIA, which together with sister carrier SilkAir, flies to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Langkawi and East Malaysia, also welcomed the opportunity to grow capacity on routes to Malaysia.

Its spokesman said: 'How we might utilise those additional rights in due course is something we will announce at an appropriate time.'

Private tutor Alice Ng, 28, who travels to Malaysia regularly, said: 'The last time I flew to Langkawi on SilkAir, the air fare came to more than $400. Hopefully, with more competition and low-cost carriers coming in, the fares will drop.'

However, not everyone is thrilled about the liberalisation. Mr Sebastian Yap, executive director of Transtar Travel, which operates Singapore-Malaysia express bus services, expects business to take a hit.

'After the introduction of Singapore- KL budget flights, and with the general economic slowdown, we have seen business on the route fall by about 20 per cent,' he said.

'Ipoh and Penang are strong markets for us and I expect that there will be some impact when low-cost carriers come in.'

Still, he is not unduly worried. Unlike airlines that may offer very good deals only at certain times of the year, bus fares are more or less constant throughout the year, Mr Yap said, adding that there is an upside to liberalisation as well.

'Competition is not all bad. New air links and more flights will boost interest and tourism. If more people visit these places, it is good for all of us,' he said.