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Tourist joyrides in the sky by Sabah Air

He Mei Ling (seated in front) and her friend waving to the camera before take-off

11th May, 2017


KOTA KINABALU: Joyrides in the sky look set to become a tourism industry game-changer for Sabah.

The bird’s eye view tour of the state’s capital and its beautiful hinterland takes in a breathtaking snapshot panorama of Sabah’s scenic landscape and islands in once-in-a-lifetime package flight aboard a modern helicopter.

And taking the first one-hour tour was a group of Chinese company executives enjoying an incentive package. No fewer than 3,000 flew in via China Southern Airlines scheduled flight on a five-day company tour starting this week. But only top management executives were lucky enough to enjoy the trip.

The flights aboard a Bell 206L3 Long Ranger (six-seater) and AS355NP twin engine (five-seater) choppers were rolled out by Sabah Air Aviation Sdn Bhd’s dedicated “Kota Kinabalu City and Islands Sightseeing Tour”.

The flights were divided into three groups starting on May 8 and then on Wednesday (May 10) and today (May 11) with up to 10 personnel aboard for each trip.

The New Sabah Times managed to catch up with the VIP tourists and Sabah Air’s senior personnel and pilot at their terminal in Tanjung Aru here before the flight on Wednesday.

“Although I don’t have the opportunity to talk to them (as the tourists don’t speak English), it is really nice to bring them around. I could see they are very excited about it because this is something new for them to see this kind of scenery,” said Captain Jaimie E Ermitanio as she waited for the VIP passengers to arrive.

She was also involved in flying the first batch of visitors on Monday (May 8) and from the feedback, she noted the tourists were very happy with the itinerary that the travel agents and Sabah Air had arranged.

“If I am not mistaken, they have shared the trip with the other groups and it seems that their friends have insisted to us they also want to take the same route,” said Captain Jaimie from the Philippines.

All the journeys began and ended at the Sabah Air terminal. And during the flight, passengers were taken in a bird’s eye visit of five popular tourism spots.

“We will be flying 500 feet and below at 60 nautical miles while at certain spots we will descend to 300 feet to allow the tourists to have closer view of that area,” she said.

“The first route we will cover is to see the Kiulu River in the hinterland which offers a scenic view of the white-water rafting and also to see the surrounding villages and the tributaries. We will be flying low at this area.

“After that, we go straight to Tamparuli to see the old wooden township and villages before heading to Mengkabong Bay in Tuaran to see the mangrove river.

“We then proceed to the coastline to let the passengers see the panoramic view of the iconic Yayasan Sabah building (Menara Tun Mustapha) before heading to the last leg of the expedition in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park which covers Gaya Island, Mamutik Island, Sapi Island, Sulug Island and Manukan Island.”

And added Capt Jaimie: “Personally, although I have been flying to all these areas before for so many times, I never get bored to see the view of Sabah especially its green landscape which is so refreshing.”

Among the Chinese VIP passenger was He Mei Ling who said she enjoyed joyride in the sky.

“This is my first visit to Kota Kinabalu and this is the third time I am taking a helicopter ride to see the local attractions from the sky. Before this, I have tried it in Kuala Lumpur and Dubai,” said Mei Ling who works for a clothing company in Fujian province.

“I will enjoy this helicopter ride as I will see the scenery of Kota Kinabalu clearly from the sky to have a better idea of how the city looks like. Every place offers a different scenery and excitement.”

Sabah Air’s group chief executive officer-cum-accountable manager Terry Chan Kong Ngee was present to greet the VIP passengers.

“We have actually done it before. We are now trying to revive it,” he said, adding that they introduced the service some years ago.

Terry said they wanted to take advantage of the influx of Chinese tourists “and this is actually just the beginning.”

“We will try to market it aggressively. The company that helped us to arrange the ride today (Wednesday) is actually from Kuala Lumpur. We are now trying to get the local travel agents to help us to promote this service,” he added.

After seeing the first two packages kicked off smoothly on Wednesday, Terry believed this is a good beginning for Sabah Air.

He added that Sabah Air is now in the process of getting the promotional brochures ready and once available, it would be distributed to the local travel agents.

“We are going to focus on marketing the product and we have talked to Rasa Ria Resort some months back. “I think this product (helicopter service) is going to have a promising future,” he said.

Presently, Terry said the company has a fleet of 10 helicopters and about four to five were available for the sightseeing service.

“Currently, we are using two helicopters and if the need arises we can deploy another two. And, if the demand is good, we will think of bigger capacity helicopters,” he said.

Tour guide James Wong of Kuala Lumpur-based travel agent Sunflower Holidays Sdn Bhd who brought the group of 3,000 Chinese visitors to Sabah said: “The helicopter ride was introduced for the first time to our customers. But it is only meant for the top management personnel as this is their company’s incentive tour.”

According to him, Sunflower has been operating in Kuala Lumpur for the past 20 years and they have organised three exclusive helicopter rides for their VIP visitors during their sojourn here.

Sabah Air marketing executive Xavier Joo Kehit shared that he had been working closely with Sunflower since last year to plan the helicopter ride package.

“Sunflower came here to discuss with our management team on the matter. The response has been encouraging as the visitors are very eager to take the ride to see our beautiful state,” he said.

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