Aviation Interview with Dato’ Rohman Ahmad

Director of SKS Airways

Armed with a background in Civil Engineering from the University of Technology Malaysia, Dato’ Rohman Ahmad, 39, had started his career in construction management with the Johor-based SKS Group, a multi-disciplinary organisation before he was tasked to lead its new venture into aviation, which resulted in the inception of SKS Airways Sdn Bhd on November 13, 2017. With his previous experience largely in construction and property, he quickly learnt and picked up the ropes of the airline business. Surrounded by a team of professionals and external consultants, his responsibilities are to ensure that the airline’s first year of operation is set up to meet its targeted goals and to prepare its roadmap for the next three years.

Amidst the rising Covid-19 cases, Omicron threat and soaring jet fuel prices, how have they impacted SKS Airways’ recent commencement of its flight operations to the islands of Pangkor and Redang?
Fully aware of Omicron’s impact on the aviation and tourism industries, safety has always been our top priority. We are committed to strictly follow all guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to ensure minimal risks to our passengers and crew. Although the Covid-19 cases are trending high currently, we believe that with Malaysia’s high vaccination rate of its 32 million plus population, we will be able to minimise the impact with the help of the booster dose in reducing the virus’ transmission.

SKS Airways is capitalising on the pent-up demand for domestic travel while assisting in the local rebound of the travel industry. The pilot tourism bubble project in Langkawi is proof of that pent-up demand by travellers.

Undeniably, it has been tough for the past two years and will continue to remain challenging for the aviation and tourism players. Nevertheless, we foresee the situation will slowly improve and share Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ir Dr Wee Ka Siong’s optimism during the launch of our Subang-Pangkor maiden flight on January 25 that passenger volume at our local airports will grow this year beyond the 11 million passenger movements recorded last year.

Please tell us how your airline’s three-tier fare system – SKS PROMO, SKS LITE and SKS PLUS – work?
Our SKS PROMO fares offer the most affordable rates but there are only limited seats available on each flight for such fares. Hence, passengers are advised to pre-plan their journey in advance if they are keen to secure such promotional fares. However, they will not be allowed to change their flight schedule using such fares. Nor will there be a refund if they cancel their flight.

On the other hand, the SKS Plus fares are not only more flexible but they also offer access to the Subang SkyLounge prior to the passengers’ departure. Generally, our fares increase as more seats are sold. Since the seats are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, always plan your journey early to avoid disappointment. Our fares can be viewed on our online booking system at www.sksairways.com.

What is the weight limit imposed on the hand luggage and checked luggage respectively for passengers on your 19-seater turboprop DHC6-300 Twin Otter aircraft. Any charges for exceeding the weight limits?
We allow free-of-charge up to three kg for cabin baggage and up to a maximum of seven kg for checked baggage. Owing to limitations in the size of the aircraft cabin and the luggage compartment on our Twin Otter aircraft, we are unable to accept checked baggage exceeding seven kg. We thus advise passengers to carefully pre-plan packing of their personal effects and travelling gears.

While we do not accept or charge for excess baggage during check-in, we would like to remind them that holiday related items such as golf sets, snorkelling and/or diving equipment are available for rent at their respective destinations.

Regarding the returning passengers’ purchases such as chocolates from the duty-free island of Pangkor, what are your airline policies like?
As for chocolates and other forms of packaged food, it should be fine as long as it is within the baggage limit. We do not allow any fresh produce onboard though.

With SKS Airways working towards its Subang-Tioman and Johor Bahru-Tioman new routes by the second quarter of 2022, are these two services expected to start simultaneously in May?
What kind of ticket pricing can passengers expect and who are your target markets?
Based on our current planning, they will commence at the same time. SKS Airways’ target markets are the information technology savvy Gen-Y and Gen-Z, young families and island lovers looking for unique experiences at our country’s popular island destinations. We will announce the ticket pricing in due time, which should be around the same range as the ticket fares to Pulau Pangkor and Pulau Redang, which start from RM160 one way.

Will you be working out any packages for these two routes to synergise with the hotels owned by the SKS Group in various parts of Johor?
We have plans to offer packages with flight tickets and accommodation but are not limiting ourselves by just partnering with SKS Group-owned hotels. For now, our focus is the flight ticket for leisure travel via our Twin-Otter aircraft to the three popular island destinations that we have identified.

How do you see the prospects for 2022? Any difficulties in sourcing for pilots, crew and/or staff?
We are optimistic the business environment will improve this year and have started by leveraging on the domestic travel demand to give us a head start when international travel resumes. By starting small, this will give us the added edge, agility and flexibility to make swift decisions according to market conditions. With the Covid-19 pandemic having more than levelled the playing field, there are now more affordable aircraft and ample pilots in the marketplace, plus less congested landing slots for us to work with.

What are SKS Airways’ plans beyond 2022?
For our scheduled commercial passenger services, we plan to cover other new and unserved destinations. Based on the travel demand feedback received thus far, we may increase the daily frequency of our current routes to Pangkor and Redang from Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang, Selangor.

Regarding our plans to diversify into cargo and charter, we recognise cargo as one of the key pillars in our aviation business. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines generated a historic high of US$128 billion in cargo revenue in 2020. IATA also forecast 2021’s air cargo revenues to hit a record $175 billion. We expect to be profitable once SKS Airways’ three pillars are up and running within the next five years.

Work apart, how do you unwind?
I believe in spending time with my family and would go on short family trips with them to interesting places, trying out different local cuisines besides exploring our country’s abundant natural attractions and culture. Travelling takes us out of our comfort zone. A change of scenery inspires us to see, taste and to try new things.

I hope the containment of the Covid-19 situation globally will improve in 2022. I am sure I am not the only one who misses travelling freely without the current constraints that are being imposed.

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