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Industry / Rural Air Services / History of RAS

History of RAS

Rural and inter-colony flights (North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak), as it was known before RAS, has been vital in providing air connectivity within Sabah and Sarawak.

When Malaysia was formed, it was agreed that the Government of Malaysia will continue to subsidise RAS in Sabah and Sarawak, in line with civil aviation being under the federal jurisdiction. Historically, RAS was operated by Borneo Airways Ltd., Malaysia-Singapore Airways Ltd., Malaysia Airline System and Fly Asian Xpress Sdn. Bhd. (“FAX”).

The operators of RAS since its establishment are as below:

Borneo Airways Limited

The first Borneo Airways, known as ‘Borneo Airways Limited’, was founded in 1957 as an airline serving British Borneo (which comprised the four northern parts of the island of Borneo, now known as Brunei, Labuan, Sabah, and Sarawak). Its history could be traced back to 1947, where it was previously known as Sabah Airways Limited, founded by the Straits Steamship Company Limited and the government of British North Borneo.


Malaysia-Singapore Airlines

In 1965, Borneo Airways was amalgamated with Malaysian Airways, and led to the formation of Malaysia–Singapore Airlines. In 1966, after Singapore’s expulsion from the federation, the airline was renamed Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA), before its assets were divided in 1972 to form two separate national airlines – Malaysian Airline System (MAS) and Singapore Airlines.


Malaysian Airline System (1976 – 2006)

Post MSA, Malaysian Airline System (MAS) took all domestic routes within Malaysia and international routes out of Malaysia. It began flights on 1 October 1972 and soon expanded, including introducing flights from Kuala Lumpur to London. MAS operated the RAS flights until 2006 when MAS introduced their business turnaround plan, which included the termination of certain routes such as RAS routes.


Fly Asian Xpress Sdn. Bhd. (later known as AirAsia X Sdn. Bhd.) (2006 – 2007)

In 2006, the Cabinet decided on a rationalisation plan on the domestic airline services sector, which included the RAS. Pursuant to the rationalisation plan, Fly Asian Express Sdn. Bhd. (FAX) was formed by AirAsia Bhd. to start its RAS operation covering 39 routes from 1 August 2006. FAX (owned by key persons of AirAsia with a capital of RM2 million) started as private company created to take over RAS from MAS, on a 24-month contract to serve the RAS routes. FAX’s RAS operation lasted from 1 August 2006 to 30 September 2007 and ended due to operational and financial difficulties. Upon termination of the RAS contract in September 2007, FAX changed its name to AirAsia X Sdn. Bhd.


MASwings Sdn. Bhd. (From 2007)

*  For more information on MASwings, please view the current RAS programme page.


Public Service Obligations (PSO)

In Malaysia, the principal example of PSO in the aviation industry is the Rural Air Services (RAS) which connect remote, sparsely populated, or otherwise inaccessible parts of Sabah and Sarawak with the rest of the two states and country.

In the Malaysian Aviation Commission Act 2015, PSO is defined as the provision of service on a scheduled journey between aerodromes –

  • where one or more aerodromes serve a region within Malaysia that is remote or sparsely populated or is faced with significant accessibility issues arising from its geographical peripherality or lack of adequate surface transport alternatives; or
  • serving a route which is vital for the economic and social development of Malaysia or to be in the national interest,

which airlines would not assume if they were solely considering their commercial interest.