Myanmar Ponders Future as an Air Transport Player

 - September 9, 2013, 10:10 AM
Myanmar’s flag carrier, Myanmar Airways, flies seven Airbus A320s. (Photo: Myanmar Airways)

As it embarks on a series of reforms under a new government that took office in March 2011, Myanmar has set its sights on next year for the release of a national civil aviation policy to prepare for a traffic boom that threatens to overwhelm its woefully inadequate air transport infrastructure.

The country’s fast growing airline industry now counts seven domestic carriers, and four more airlines owned by Myanmar nationals have submitted applications to launch operations. Government forecasts predict an increase in annual visitors to six million in 2017. Overcrowding has already become so dire that the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) has restricted the number of airlines that can operate out of Yangon International Airport (YIA), the main gateway to the country. Of the 600,000 people who visited Myanmar by air last year, 500,000 arrived at Yangon. As a result, the DCA has forced new airlines to establish their home bases in Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw.

On August 21 the DCA announced its choice of developers to improve and expand Yangon International Airport and Mandalay International Airport; and build the greenfield Hanthawaddy International Airport, located about 80 km north of Yangon. The contract to build and operate Hanthawaddy, designed to accommodate 12 million passengers and scheduled to open in early 2018, went to South Korea’s Incheon International Airport.

More than 22 Asian carriers fly direct to Yangon, Myanmar’s financial hub, including Singapore Airlines and its budget carrier subsidiary Silk Air, Jetstar, China Eastern Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA), which just last week announced plans to acquire 49 percent of Myanmar’s Asian Wings Airlines for $25 million. Meanwhile, Thailand-based budget carrier Nok Air and Singapore-based Tiger Airlines have submitted their plans to the DCA to start direct flights. Others include Malaysia Airlines, Laos Airlines, Vietnam Airlines and Cathay Pacific’s subsidiary, Dragon Air, which carries a large amount of traffic from China. Recently, a joint venture between Japan Airlines and Mitsubishi Logistics launched cargo flights to Myanmar. Qatar Airways connects passengers from London via Doha to Yangon, while German charter operator Condor operates a weekly service from Frankfurt.

Western carriers have yet to start flying to Myanmar even as governments “clarify” issues on its human rights record and implement relevant international agreements in the field of non-proliferation and disarmament. The EU has promised to foster connectivity to support Myanmar’s participation in regional integration and the implementation of the Roadmap towards an ASEAN Community by 2015.