KOTA KINABALU • Malaysia's Election Commission (EC) has booked all available aircraft from Sabah's largest helicopter service provider for the months of April and May.
Sabah Air Aviation CEO Terry Chan said the company has 12 helicopters while its subsidiaries have several more.
However, he did not reveal when the EC made the bookings, or if the bookings extend beyond those months.
Another helicopter service provider, Layang-Layang Helicopter Academy, said its 10 aircraft are also all booked up.
Its registrar and administrator Thiruchelvam Therri said the EC is expected to fully utilise the company's services in April and May. "We have been in discussion for these bookings since last year," he said.
In the neighbouring state of Sarawak, a source hinted at similar bookings for the same period.
Helicopters will be in high demand in the two states come election time due to their vast land area and remote interior.
The choppers are used during elections to take ballot boxes and officials to remote polling stations as well as to outlying islands.
In Kuching, when asked if helicopter service providers were fully booked for April, a source said: "It looks like yes, but this is not confirmed because we don't know the election date."
However, he noted that there had been increasing movement of politicians since last year.
"With the election coming, elected representatives are visiting their constituencies more frequently," he said.
"It slowed down recently because of poor weather, but now the weather is improving, things will start getting busy again," he said. "For sure, the helicopters will be fully booked for election purposes. At the moment, operations are still running as usual and anybody can still book flights. But when the election date is announced, the helicopters will not be available for public charter."
The source also said additional helicopters are likely to be brought in from outside the state to meet the increased demand for the coming election.
In the 2016 Sarawak state election, the EC rented 38 helicopters at a cost of RM33.4 million.
In the 2013 general election, the EC used 27 helicopters and two fixed-wing small aircraft in Sarawak, along with 780 boats, 56 speedboats and 4,810 four-wheel drive vehicles.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK