Air­port up­grades in Myan­mar’s lesser-known hotspots means more in­ter­na­tional flights and tourists: in­sid­ers

The Myanmar Times - - Business - EI EI THU eiei­thu@mm­times.com

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

Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

A hot air bal­loon soars over tourism hotspot Ba­gan.

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