Improving relations between Malaysia and the Philippines have led the countries' political leaders to put the concept of a multinational east Asian airline back on the agenda.

The proposed carrier, which would be jointly-owned by the four members of the East Asean Growth Area (EAGA): Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei, was mooted several years ago but failed to materialise. Problems included a political squabble between Malaysia and the Philippines, the result of persistent territorial claims by Manila on the east Malaysian state of Sabah.

The two countries have made up. After a private meeting in Tokyo, Philippine president Fidel Ramos and Malaysian prime minister Mahatir Mohamad unveiled their hopes for the joint airline and called on Brunei and Indonesia to support the venture. Ramos has already instructed three senior government officials, including the foreign and transport secretaries, to draw up a plan for the regional carrier.

Ramos has also hinted that the multinational airline could be built around Malaysia's newest domestic operator, Saeaga Airlines. The carrier's chairman, Tan Sri Pek Khiing, confirmed he has been invited 'to spearhead the expansion of our airline into a regional body.' He was due to meet with president Ramos in Manila in June.

'We may give a share of Saeaga Airlines to the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei and the Malaysian government, depending on which party is interested to participate in the plan,' he adds. 'By expanding ourselves regionally, we will be able to secure and open up more landing rights internationally.'

Tom Ballantyne

Source: Airline Business