Airport upgrades in Myanmar’s lesser-known hotspots means more international flights and tourists: insiders
A NUMBER of airports popular with tourists will begin accepting direct international flights after their upgrades are complete over the next decade, the Department of Civil Aviation deputy director general U Ye Htut Aung told The Myanmar Times.
Heho Airport in Shan State, Nyaung-U in Mandalay Region, Thandwe in Rakhine State, and Dawei in Tanintharyi Region are examples of the types of airports that may take on flights from other countries, following the upgrades, he said.
The improvements, which industry insiders say will be a boon for the tourism sector, will be made in cooperation with the Japan International Cooperation Agency. JICA is tasked with supporting the experts who are drawing up the master plans. After they are complete, the improvements will be made with public funding. Some of the upgrades are scheduled to be complete by 2018 with the longestterm plans expected to be done by 2028, he said.
“If government budgetary support is strong enough, [international flights could come to these airports] in the near future,” U Ye Htut Aung said.
Currently, Myanmar has only three international airports - Yangon, Mandalay, and Nay Pyi Taw - that can handle large planes from international destinations, said Myanmar Airways International (MAI) Assistant General Manager Daw Aye Mra Tha. Many of the domestic airports cannot accept these flights, she added, but demand for international carriers is growing at these locations is growing.
“Many tourists want to take off directly from Heho and Nyaung-U airports - that is often requested but we cannot land an airbus there given the current condition of airports,” she said. “That is why they need upgrades.”
If the domestic airports are improved and begin accepting international flights, the competition will drive prices down and increase the number of flights in those regions, she said. U Ye Htut concurred, noting that it would also raise the service standards of flights.
The move would be welcomed by the tourism industry, said Ko Mo Lwin, managing director of the Yangon-based Peak Point Travel & Tours.
“To upgrade the local airports is needed for our country,” he said.
Tourists would like to see much more of the country when they come to Myanmar, Ko Mo Lwin said, but most were limited by the time they had taken for a break. Increased international flights at airports would save that time, he said, meaning tourists would get more out of their Myanmar travel.
“If there were direct flights to every state and division, not only tourists, but also businessmen could then travel to every state and division of Myanmar. It would really be a boost to the tourism sector and also for local business,” he said.
During the off-season, from the end of April to the beginning of October, domestic flights are in low demand so some airlines reduce the number of flights or stop them altogether, Daw Aye Mra Tha said.
“We need to attract the international visitors to come year-round,” she said.
U Ye Htut Aung said he would like to see cooperation between the various domestic airlines.
“We would like to combine the airlines, then they will provide better service with enough investments ... We had implemented this before but it was not yet a complete success.”
Currently Myanmar hosts 31 international flights and has 10 domestic airlines. – Additional reporting by Tin Yadanar Tun
A hot air balloon soars over tourism hotspot Bagan.