Kidnappings in Malaysia Curb Chinese Airline Service

 - June 25, 2014, 9:52 AM
Xiamen Airlines is one of four Chinese carriers to curb services to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. (Photo: Boeing)

Chinese carriers have canceled several flights to Kota Kinabalu in response to poor market demand and safety concerns following a spate of kidnappings of Taiwanese and Chinese tourists in the east Malaysian state of Sabah since April.

The four carriers—China Southern Airlines, Xiamen Airlines, Spring Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines—had canceled 76 flights as of June 23.

With eight scuba diving destinations and sandy beaches, Sabah attracts many international tourists, including Chinese. Also, relatives of many Chinese nationals live in Sabah and across the peninsula, generating a particularly strong Chinese market.

A senior official at the Transport Department in Kota Kinabalu, Jerry Lu, attributed some of the cancellations to last-minute no-show passengers and most others to poor market demand.

“The four carriers have indicated that onward bookings for the next two months are slow and there is high possibility that more flights from China will be canceled,” Lu said.

Low-cost carrier Spring Airlines acknowledged that the sharply reduced passenger load on its daily flight from Shanghai Pudong has prompted several cancellations.

“Market demand is slow currently, but we have no plans to suspend operations,” said a spokesman for the carrier.

Korean Airlines and Asiana Airlines, each of which operates a daily flight from Incheon, Korea, to Kota Kinabalu, have not reported a slump in traffic.

Meanwhile, a fourth new low-fare airline in Malaysia plans to start operations in September using Sultan Halimm Airport in Alor Setar in the northern state of Kedah as its base. A 50-50 joint venture between Bumi Aviation and Neptune Air, the still unnamed airline plans to operate domestic flights to Langkawi, Kota Baru, and regional services to Phuket, Acheh and Medan in Indonesia initially using ATR 42-500 turboprops.

The carrier said it plans later to upgrade its fleet to either the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737-800 when it expands operations. Its entry would further fragment a market already crowded with three other LCCs—AirAsia, Malindo and FireFly—as well as Malaysia Airlines.