Langkawi “pilot travel bubble” to revive Malaysia’s domestic air travel

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KUALA LUMPUR: The government’s decision to reopen its tourism sector to fully vaccinated travellers via the travel bubble programme, starting with Langkawi, could reinvigorate domestic air travel, said industry players.


They, however, said the government should give at least a month notice for airlines to come up with standard operating procedures for such travel.

They said travel domestic travel resumption and recovery could be expedited if the Covid-19 pandemic improved with more people getting vaccinated.

Last week, the government announced Langkawi as the pilot project to facilitate domestic travel bubbles for local tourists from September 16.

Sobie Aviation consultant and independent analyst Brendan Sobie said domestic markets typically recovered fast once they were reopened, and most of the population had been vaccinated.

“Opening Langkawi first makes sense given the high vaccination rate already achieved by the local population and the fact it is an island.

“Langkawi is a fairly small market. So while it is an important first step, it will only enable a very partial domestic recovery,” he told the New Straits Times (NST).

Sobie said domestic passenger traffic in Malaysia currently stoodat about 3.0 per cent pre-Covid levels, while Langkawi accounted for about 9.0 per cent of total domestic traffic in Malaysia before the pandemic.

“Therefore, even assuming a full recovery for Langkawi, the overall domestic traffic for Malaysia will likely remain below 15 per cent pre-Covid levels,” he added.

Sobie said this would be higher than in recent months but still lower than what was achieved earlier in the pandemic.

“For example, in September 2020, Malaysia domestic traffic was nearly 40 per cent pre-Covid levels. I think it is possible Malaysia will finally reach for the first time during the pandemic 50 per cent of 2019 levels by the end of this year.

“We could see traffic return to close to pre-Covid levels sometime next year, but this is not a certainty in today’s very dynamic environment,” he added.

Former Malaysia Airlines flight operations director Captain Mohd Kamil Abu Bakar said the government should give ample notice, at least a month preparation, for airlines to come up with clear guidelines or standard operating procedures (SOPs) for such travel.

“Airlines need to know about the restrictions such as ‘social distancing’ if any on the aircraft.

“If there is, then it might not be economically feasible to fly on restricted load,” Mohd Kamil told the NST.

However, he said international travel recovery was unlikely due to high cases in Malaysia.


“But it depends on them (countries) reopening their borders and whether they allow us to operate,” he added.

Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG), the parent company of Malaysia Airlines Bhd, lauded the government’s activation of the Langkawi travel bubble.

It said this could be a starting point of reviving domestic tourism, helping to boost the socio-economy of the people impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

MAG group chief executive officer Captain Izham Ismail said it was ready to facilitate travel for fully vaccinated customers, reuniting their loved ones and reconnecting with the beauty Langkawi offers.

“Currently, Malaysia Airlines operates four times daily to Langkawi and will adjust its capacity to meet customers’ demands accordingly,” he said in a statement recently.

Captain Izham said the airline remained steadfast in its commitment to adopting the highest safety and hygiene standards in air travel.

“Most recently, MAG achieved 100 per cent vaccinated status for all its pilots and cabin crew on an active roster, which further provide passengers with the assurance and peace of mind, confidently,” he added.

Malaysia Airlines has enhanced its safety and health protocols across multiple touchpoints at airports and onboard, recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation Council of Aviation Recovery Task Force (ICAO CART).

The measures in place include mandatory usage of face masks, frequent aircraft disinfection, and early replacement of aircraft HEPA filters to ensure an effective air circulation system capable of filtering out 99.97 per cent of microorganisms onboard.

AirAsia Malaysia chief executive officer Riad Asmat said the government’s decision to start the travel bubble bodes well for the recovery of the whole tourism industry in Langkawi.

“We look forward to working closely with the government, Langkawi Development Authority (Lada), as well as Tourism Malaysia, to support the revival of the tourism sector,” he said.

Riad said AirAsia Malaysia was working on a few campaigns to revitalise tourism in Langkawi, with some attractive deals soon.

“As we return to the skies, we want you to fly confidently with us and have that peace of mind throughout your journey.

“We always strive for a pleasant and safe flight with AirAsia. It is our commitment that stringent health and hygiene protocols are in place throughout your journey, including on-ground at the terminal, ramp and cargo areas as well as onboard your flight,” he added.

AirAsia Group said it was ready to fly with its operating crew and frontline staff 100 per cent vaccinated, alongside numerous contactless safety and hygiene measures in place.-NST