KOTA KINABALU, SABAH, MALAYSIA —  The return of travelers’ appetite to fly anew stirs confidence in the pandemic-hit aviation sector.,Low-cost air carrier AirAsia Philippines, for instance, plans to double its current flying capacity to Sabah, Malaysia by the fourth quarter of the year to cater to the growing travel demand to and from this destination.,“We’re flying twice a week from Manila to Kota Kinabalu and back. Our capacity is approximately between 1,800 to 1,900 using our Airbus 320 and our load factor has improved significantly by around 70 percent,” AirAsia Philippines CEO Ricky Isla told reporters at a press briefing on Tuesday night.,“We expect to increase our capacity, hopefully by the fourth quarter, going back to our pre-pandemic levels — that practically doubles our flying capacity from 2,000 to 4,000 monthly,” he said.,AirAsia Philippines resumed its twice-a-week flights to Kota Kinabalu in May. Pre-pandemic, it flies four times a week.,Manila to Kota Kinabalu flight leaves NAIA Terminal 3 at 12:10 am and arrives at Kota Kinabalu International Airport at 2:10 am. Its return flight leaves Kota Kinabalu at 2:50 am and arrives in Manila at 4:50 am.,Guests visiting Kota Kinabalu are required to download the MySejahtera app and fill out the pre-departure form and verify their digital COVID-19 vaccine certificate via the ‘Traveller’ icon.,Stronger ties seen,Isla also pointed out that “a lot of Filipinos tourists and those bringing their families to Sabah” will be one of the airline’s sales boosters in the last-quarter peak season.,Meanwhile, Hon. YB Datuk Jafry Ariffin, the Minister of Tourism Culture and Environment, said: “In line with the transition to an endemic phase, I believe that this resumption of international flights comes at the right time for both tourists and locals in Sabah, who have been excitedly anticipating and planning their travels.”,“I believe with the support and cooperation of AirAsia, we can re-establish collaborations on new access into Sabah. I am looking forward to more connections AirAsia may bring from the island nation of the Philippines,” he added.,Stalling fuel hike effect,Since the government-mandated fuel surcharges are already effective since 1 July, Isla said AirAsia will offer alternative cheap means through the airasia Super App.,“The fuel surcharge is important for us, airline companies, to at least be supported by our government. We are following guidelines and we cannot implement guidelines without science and airline companies usually follow that. We are offering a lot of promotions,” he pointed out.,The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) implemented fuel surcharges starting last Friday — ranging from P355 to P1,038 due to the increasing prices of jet fuel in the world market. (Maria Romero)