Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Sipadan Air - All You Need To Know

Sipadan Airlines

The all-new Sipadan Air from Sabah will start operations from Semporna to Kota Kinabalu and it has been slated to begin in September of 2019. 

Sipadan Air is also privately owned by Equus Air Sdn. Bhd that is based in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. They are new players in the Sabah aviation industry which aims to develop aviation tourism in Sabah. 

Sipadan Air Kota Kinabalu to Semporna Flights

This special charter flights from KK to Semporna will operate on two Twin Otter DHC-6 aircraft, which will comfortably seat 12 to 15 passengers, though the aircraft can carry up to 19 passengers. 

The reason for this is the weight factor for the Twin Otter aircraft, where luggage and passengers are weighed to balance the aircraft. 

Since the news of the new airline in Sabah was announced in September, the company has indicated that the two inaugural flights have been fully booked with 30 Chinese tourists. 

Sipadan Air has also mentioned that the charter flights have been fully booked till the end of this year too. 

This news of the Sabah new airline was also covered by the Daily Express which is Sabah's popular English news portal. 

Equus Air
The main landing page for Sipadan Air, which is under Equus Air. 
Why the Name Sipadan Air? 

This can be a little confusing for visitors, where the first thought is that the airline will fly directly to Sipadan Island. But in actual fact, it is just a name given to the charter airline. 

There could have been any other name, but the company decided on Sipadan Air to reflect the world-renown name of Sipadan Island. 

Another reason could be that many China tourists and other tourists have Sipadan Island on their wishlist or bucket list as one of the places to visit in the world. 

The main website is called Equus Air and is currently not operational at the time of writing this article, but I believe it should be ready in the next few days or weeks. 

Pulau Sipadan 2020
Sipadan Island is seen from my dive boat during one of my many trips there. 
Will Sipadan Air fly directly to Sipadan Island?

We all wish for that, but sorry no. The Sipadan Air will only be operating flight from Kota Kinabalu to Semporna town, which is the gateway to Sipadan and Mabul island. 

Many people who have not been here may think that Sipadan is a large island with resorts and even an airport, but truth be told, it is a small island that only has a military outpost. 

The name sounds catchy but does not reflect the airline flying into the island like other islands around Malaysia. For example, Tioman and Pangkor Island have their own little airport and runway. 

But Mabul, Sipadan and other islands around the Tun Sakaran Marin Park are very small with no airport space. 

Sipadan Air is owned by Equus Air
Who is Sipadan Air? 

Sipadan Air is a privately owned airline by Equus Air Sdn. Bhd, a local Sabahan company that is based in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia. 

The Chairman of Sipadan Air is Datuk Omar Ali Tun Sakaran, who is the son of Tun Sakaran Mohd Hashim bin Dandai, who served as the eighth Chief Minister and Governor of Sabah.

Equus Air’s chief operating officer is also Capt. Adam Abdullah. The airline also owns two 19-seat de Havilland Canada Series 300 Twin Otters which will be used for the inaugural phase. 

The airline also has a tagline that goes like this - "From Islands to Highlands", which is all targeted towards tourist destinations around Sabah Borneo. 

Amphibious Seaplane Sabah
The S-38 Sikorsky Seaplane which is a popular amphibious aircraft.
From what I gather, the company Equus Air is also planning to introduce Sea Planes to Sabah. This will possibly be in the near future. 

The company has also sent one of its pilots to the Maldives to do some pilot training, and in the Maldives, seaplanes are the main mode of transport from island to island. 

Another piece of interesting news is that the company will be interested in introducing amphibious aircraft in Sabah. 

Equus Air is currently preparing an amphibian flight module for the Department of Civil Aviation for approval to operate. 

Lapanangan Terbang Semporna
Semporna Airport, a STOL airport located just 12 minutes from the main town area.
Where does Sipadan Air fly to? 

Currently, for phase one, Sipadan Air will operate from Kota Kinabalu to Semporna and vice-versa. There are plans to expand to other tourist destinations around Sabah. 

For future routes, the airline has plans to operate Kota Kinabalu to Ranau flights, where driving will take you around two and a half hours, but the flight will take you only 20 minutes. 

There is also the Kota Kinabalu to Kudat flights, and driving up north will take you around three to three and a half hours one way. A flight will probably take you only 30 minutes. 

Sipadan Air Phase 2 

Phase two of the airline will see the introduction of the Seaplanes or Amphibious Aircraft, which will most likely be the Sikorsky 38 or 39 models. 

These seaplanes are dual-purpose and can land in water and also on land, which will make this perfect for many island resorts located around Sabah. 

The second phase for Sipadan Air is targeting flights and also special charters for;

  • Kota Kinabalu to resort
  • Tawau to resort
  • Semporna to resort
  • Island hopping flight
  • Scenic flight
  • Sunset dinner flight
  • Sunset round island tour


Seaplanes will also be used for special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, marriage, proposals, graduation or even career promotions. 

This introduction will, of course, bring in new tourism opportunities in Sabah, and help to increase tourism arrivals into Sabah and the hard to get to places. 

Air Sipadan Sabah
The Twin Otter DHC-6 aircraft that Sipadan Air will use.
How to Book Sipadan Air Flights? 

Currently, the airline is only doing charter flights, and they have arrangements with selected travel agents in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. 

In the future, the airline may open up to the mainstream tourist for direct booking, but for now, there has not been any news about this. 

The route by road from Tawau to Semporna
What other ways to get to Sipadan Island? 

Currently, the only way to get to Sipadan Island or Semporna is via flights into Tawau City from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, and other major cities. 

Airlines like Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia have daily direct flights to Tawau, and from there, you need to take a taxi to Semporna which will take one hour and forty-five minutes. 

Most visitors will use this way to get to Sipadan Island or any other island around the Tun Sakaran Marine Park. 

Map of Semporna Airport in Sabah
The distance from Semporna Airport to the main public jetty in Semporna town.
Where is the Semporna Airport located at? 

The Semporna Airport is a STOL Airport or short take-off and landing airport, which can only cater to small turbo-prob aircraft like the Twin Otter and even the ATR planes. 

The airport is located along Jalan Lapangan Terbang in the Mile 2 area or Batu 2 of the Semporna main road called SA51. Another landmark is the Sabah Electricity main office in Semporna. 

The airport was last used by the Rural Air Service by Malaysia Airlines with flights connecting to Sandakan and other towns around Sabah. The last commercial flights were in 2012. 

In recent years, the airport runway was used by Borneo Paramotor for leisure activities including classes to fly a paramotor. 

Photo of Semporna Airport STOL
What the Semporna Airport looks like in this photo taken on May 2019.
Cause for Concerns

Did you know that tourism numbers into Semporna and the surrounding islands have been estimated between 60,000 to 80,000 visitors a month? 

While this is great news for Sabah Tourism, there are many who feel that the overtourism in this part of Sabah needs to be controlled. 

However, this is a double-edged sword that needs to be looked into carefully by the tourism board and also the tourism industry.

Conclusion

With the announcement of Sipadan Air flying from Kota Kinabalu to Semporna, this will cut travel time by a lot for tourists wanting to visit the world-famous Sipadan Island and Mabul Island. 

If you are planning to head to this part of Sabah Borneo, you may also want to know what to do in Mabul Island when you are here. 

As stated earlier in this article, the flights are only available for charter flights through some of the tour agents in Sabah. Hopefully, Sipadan Air will expand into a commercial budget airline in Sabah. 

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