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How Rural Air Services (RAS) Helps

Rural Air Services (RAS) are air services carried out in the interior of East Malaysia where air transport is an essential transportation mode to connect people in rural areas with other parts of the country. The RAS programme is run by the Federal Government and airlines that operate the RAS routes may be entitled to receive subsidies.

The rugged terrain in East Malaysia makes land transportation challenging

While it is possible to drive around Sabah and Sarawak, the size and the condition of many roads make this unpractical. Therefore, river transport is the next best choice and is especially prevalent in Sarawak because there are many navigable rivers, with the Sungai Rajang being the most used. For most parts, the rural areas in Borneo can only be accessed by air or boat. With the conditions on the ground, air travel is the only realistic choice and an important mode of transportation for the rural resident living in the dense jungle-covered topography of the country.

From To Duration (by river / land) Duration (by flight)
Kuching Sibu

6 hours 30 minutes (by road)

4 hours 30 minutes (by express boat)

45 minutes
Marudi Bario 4 days (by logging trail) 40 minutes
Kota Kinabalu Sandakan 6 hours 30 minutes 45 minutes
Kota Kinabalu Lahad Datu 7 hours 30 minutes 1 hour

Comparison of travel time for selected destinations

Colourful boats for transport of passengers and goods on river Sarawak on Borneo

Therefore, it is not surprising that in Sabah and Sarawak, the “short take-off and landing airports” (STOLports) are found spread out within a minimum of 30 minutes to a couple of hours of each other by air – something which would take more than a week to 14 days via land, sea or river boat. A STOLport is an airport designed with STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) aircraft operations in mind, normally having a short runway. In Malaysia, some of the STOLports for example, are remote landing strips carved out of the jungle with few services. In Sabah, the STOLports are in Kudat, Long Pasia and Semporna while in Sarawak, they are in Ba’kelalan, Bario, Belaga, Kapit, Lawas, Long Akah, Long Banga, Long Lellang, Long Semado, Long Seridan, Marudi, Mukah and Tanjung Manis.

Ground crew checking an airplane on an airfield in East Malaysia

Today, it is a way of life for these communities to obtain basic provisions like eggs, sugar, milk and newspapers. In addition to medical and emergency aid, it has also helped children from these communities to access better education, and in many ways, to help elevate their communities.

Source: Great Circle Mapper

RAS, as a mode of transportation was clearly important as it was one of the items included by Sabah and Sarawak during the negotiations to form Malaysia in 1963. The RAS Agreement was crucial to strengthening national integration and boosting connectivity within the two states until this day.