24th September, 2016
By S. SHAMALA
KOTA KINABALU: It is high time aerial tourism takes flight in Sabah by attracting a niche market and offering a fresh and new tourism product to the tourists who flock to the city.
Sabah Air Aviation, which is a helicopter and fixed wing charter and leasing company, is at the forefront in exploring the potentials and possibilities this facet of tourism has.
Bell Helicopter (BH), one of the oldest brands in the world which hails from the United States, recently held a demo run at the firm’s airport, introducing the latest Bell 412EPI aircraft. Boasting a twin-engine with a fully-integrated glass cockpit, the chopper hosts a state-of-art navigation system which is completely digital, with an analogue system only for back-up.
A small group had the privilege to be taken on an ‘air tour’ around Kota Kinabalu and nearby islands, and given a taste of the ‘whole new perspective’ of the scenic state.
Choppers are ideal for professional shutterbugs and commercial clients such as filmmakers and advertising companies to immortalise magnificent sceneries and natural terrains from an aerial perspective for promotional materials as well as personal gratification, said Sabah Air CEO Terry Chan.
And Sabah is no stranger to the film industry as the first season of reality TV show The Survivor was filmed at Pulau Tiga here; Sabah Air was roped in for the shooting of the whole programme.
“We were involved in the filming of the Survivor reality TV show. Subsequently they had few more (seasons) and went to Thailand to do shooting which we were involved as well,” said Chan.
He added that the firm was also involved in the shooting of producer Mark Burnett’s Eco-Challenge: The Expedition Race in the state as well as for Camel Trophy Challenge, an off-road championship.
Chan also revealed that a deal had been sealed with Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort to provide air tour packages to tourists who stay there.
“We are in the process of ironing out the details,” he added.
Many countries have cashed in on the trend, offering air tours to highlands such as Nepal that packages aerial tourism for tourists to catch a glimpse of the Himalayan range as well as China that entices the mass to take a trip over Guilin’s stunning scenery in South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous, Chan said.
Sabah has Mount Kinabalu as its main attraction as well as the Imbak Canyon apart from other natural gems such as the Kinabatangan River, Danum Valley, Merliau Basin, Tabin Resort and Borneo rainforests that can lure tourists to take up ‘air tours’, too, he added.
“The Tourism, Culture and Environment ministry has also forecast a surge in the arrival of international tourists to the state in a few years’ time. Therefore, it is only fair to have something fresh for them to experience, apart from the ordinary ground tours,” Chan said.
Established in 1975 to provide air transportation of passengers and aviation-related services in Malaysia, with Kota Kinabalu as its HQ, the firm owns a reliable fleet of helicopters that are chartered by various clients for different purposes.
Recently, the firm became a partner of the 26th International Borneo Safari Off-Road Challenge and is relied on to provide air-lifts during any emergencies throughout the eight-day extreme off-road event in Sabah wilderness.
It has also been operating the ‘Flying Doctors’ programme for over 40 years; a service to bring health and medical attention to rural folk who do not have access to any medical facilities.