He said the long-awaited decision was approved by the federal cabinet recently as part of efforts to improve air connectivity within the sub-region to boost tourism, trade and investment.
"MASwings ATR 72-500, which can accommodate about 70 passengers, are more suitable and efficient to serve this (BIMP-EAGA) region than if the sector is operated by bigger aircraft," he told reporters after attending a briefing on the upgrading of the Kuching International Airport, which was completed in May.
The airport, Malaysia's third busiest, and the Kota Kinabalu International Airport are poised to be the transportation hubs for BIMP-EAGA sub-region, he said.
MASwings, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines (MAS), is expected to fly the Bandar Seri Begawan-Davao City-Tarakan-Balikpapan (both in Kalimantan) sector from Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.
As the rural air services operator, MASwings is being subsidised RM150 million a year to provide community services in Sabah and Sarawak, he said.
The Sarawak Government had asked the Federal Government to consider positioning MASwings as a regional airline after budget airline Firefly ceased operations between Peninsular Malaysia and Kuching in October.
All four countries in the BIMP-EAGA grouping had agreed to discuss ways to improve air connectivity in the region after the conclusion of the BIMP-EAGA ministerial meeting in Cagayan De Oro in the Philippines recently.
On aircraft movements at the Kuching International Airport between January and September, Abdul Rahim said flight landings and departures increased by 19.28 per cent to 39,984 from 31,844 last year.
Till September, flights to domestic destinations rose by 19.46 per cent while international flights by 17.71 per cent, he said.
The three domestic airports in Bintulu, Miri and Sibu also recorded an increase by 2.72 per cent, 2.71 per cent and 0.60 per cent, respectively.
Abdul Rahim attributed the increased flights to higher flight frequencies and new routes for domestic and international destinations.