Would you give us a short introduction to the history of SAA and the evolution of operations?
SAA was founded in 1975 as a government-linked company under the purview of Sabah's Ministry of Finance. The company's purpose was to provide air transportation to rural and other remote areas that were not accessible via the national airline, Malaysia Airlines. Today, we have a fleet consisting of 11 helicopters, two fixed-wing turboprop aircraft, and one fixed-wing jet aircraft. SAA's workforce comprises about 150 staff, with another 50 employees working at our subsidiary Sazma. SAA essentially does everything except transportation services to and from oil and gas rigs, which are carried out by Sazma. SAA's niche markets are the transportation of passengers and VIPs, aerial photography, medical evacuation, and air ambulance services. SAA has excellent facilities, including a large hangar and various workshops, such as our overhaul workshop. Our maintenance facilities and our Continuing Airworthiness Management and Safety Management Systems are both approved by the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM). Most of the work we do is for the government, though we seek to move away from our dependency on the government to diversify our operations.
What areas of opportunity would you like to tap into going forward?
In expanding our operations, we are particularly looking at two areas: aerial photography and air ambulance. For the latter, we need a partner that will provide the doctors while SAA can provide the transportation. We are in the process of acquiring three 19-seater fixed-wing aircraft that we aim to use for different purposes, such as aerial photography, transportation of goods and persons, and air ambulance services. We will also do couriering or postal express services with these planes. These are our plans for the next five years. In terms of aerial surveys in Malaysia, we have created a niche and have earned our reputation over the years. Moving forward, we want to build on that reputation and expand further, perhaps even into ASEAN if the opportunity arises. Our vision is to be the leading general aviation operator in ASEAN, and this is exactly how we are proceeding. We practice excellent corporate governance and uphold a high level of safety, while we work on continuous improvement of our strengths and reduction in our weaknesses. SAA also collaborates with other companies in areas where we do not have the capabilities, such as training. We do not want to spend too much money setting up systems for everything, so we do what we are capable of and cooperate with other specialists who provide in-house training for us at our own training school.
How do you assess the ease of doing business in Sabah?
Sabah is somewhat isolated from the rest of the world, so there are many things we have to do ourselves. This is the reason why we have our own school to train our people. Yet, geographically, we are also in a great position, given our proximity to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia. In addition, the tropical scenery is an attraction for tourists. We are relatively undeveloped compared to places like Bali, so there is room for expansion. In terms of aviation, we can offer competitive prices because local salaries are relatively low. There is still room for expansion and investment, though it is paramount that those involved in the aviation industry must have the capabilities and knowledge to run an aviation business. We need the right type of aircraft that is reliable and not likely to become obsolete because it will then become a burden with spare parts and after-sales service. This is my 50th year in the aviation industry, so I like to think I know what I am talking about. I am also a trainer myself, having set up the training school. Our strategy is to be conservative with expenditures, but never at the expensive of safety.