BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – After an eight year hiatus, Royal Brunei Airlines (RB) re-launched their non-stop service to Brisbane on Wednesday, on the back of 12.8 percent growth in tourist arrivals from Australia last year.

“The new direct link with four times weekly frequency will no doubt benefit our guests with a seamless travel connection and further deepen the bilateral relationship between Brunei and Australia,” said RB’s CEO Karam Chand during the launch ceremony held at the new Collaboration Hub at the RB Campus.

RB suspended services to Brisbane in 2011 — attributed to a “very challenging trading environment” — making Melbourne the airline’s only Australian destination.

The CEO added that by serving Brisbane, it will position the airline as a key player on the “Kangaroo Route” in the important UK-Australia market, after RB launched a non-stop service to London Heathrow last October.

Chand said the new route could become a catalyst for tourism and trade, as well as complement’s Brunei’s efforts to diversify its economy away from oil and gas.

With the uptick in air arrivals from Australia, RB is expecting its Brisbane route to boost tourist numbers to help achieve half a million annual visitors by 2021.

The new route will be serviced by RB’s new fleet of A320neo aircraft, instead of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with Chand saying the Airbus is better suited for new “long, thin markets” such as Brisbane.

“It allows us to pioneer new routes of up to seven hours in duration which were previously the domain of wide-body aircraft.”

Connecting Borneo to the world

At the same event, the national carrier also introduced RB Link flights, a partnership with Malaysian low-cost carrier Malindo Air, to service five new cities in Borneo, including potential destinations such as Balikpapan and Bintulu.

Launched by the Minister of Finance and Economy II cum Chairman of RB’s Board of Directors, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah, RB Link is a project aimed at better connecting Borneo cities with Brunei and the rest of RB’s global network.

“The regional aircraft operation will be a key enabler of increased tourism, trade and movement of people within BIMP-EAGA and will further strengthen Brunei’s economic ties with the many cities of Borneo,” he said.

The minister added that RB’s investment in developing air traffic within BIMP-EAGA represents the country’s commitment to regional development, fostering better movement of people which he noted was “extremely challenging” for cities within Borneo.

“For RB this presents an opportunity connect with millions of potential new customers and offer them air connectivity via an alternative hub.

“Borneo Island is home to approximately 21 million people and growing rapidly; thus an opportunity for RB to significantly expand its home market.”

RB will launch the operation in two phases, with two brand new ATR 72-600 aircraft operated by Malindo Air, starting with existing services from Bandar Seri Begawan to Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin said the second phase will begin in the fourth quarter of 2019, with RB linking to five new destinations in Borneo.

The airline has plans to fly to Balikpapan, Indonesia, followed by four potential destinations in Malaysia such as Tawau, Sandakan, Sibu and Bintulu.

RB’s Chief Commercial Officer Martin Aeberli speaks to media at the launch of the airline’s non-stop service to Brisbane. Photo: Wardi Wasil/The Scoop

RB’s Chief Commercial Officer Martin Aeberli said the five cities were chosen for their market size but also for their potential to connect industries within RB’s global network.

“Balikpapan for example is a city that has an oil and gas industry, which is basically a good fit for the destinations that we have in the rest of our network.

“The RB Link provides connectivity first of all between Borneo and Brunei, then within Borneo via Brunei and from Borneo via Brunei to the world through the RB network.

“This is basically the beauty of the concept that we provide, extensive connectivity to and through Brunei and connecting Borneo to the rest of the world”.

The arrangement between RB and Malindo Air, commonly known as an ACMI or ‘wet lease’, will be in place for two years with aircraft, maintenance, insurance and crew provided by the latter.

For the initial phase of operations, cabin services will be provided by Malindo Air, who will be trained by RB cabin crew, with Bruneian flight attendants eventually added to the roster.