Hong Kong car­rier sus­pends Man­dalay flights due to con­cerns over fuel qual­ity

The Myanmar Times - - Business - STEVE GIL­MORE s.gil­more@mm­times.com

HONG Kong bud­get air­line HK Ex­press started flights to Man­dalay this week, but will sus­pend op­er­a­tions to the new des­ti­na­tion in Oc­to­ber be­cause of is­sues with fuel qual­ity at Man­dalay air­port, Depart­ment of Civil Avi­a­tion of­fi­cials told The Myan­mar Times.

The firm be­gan flights from Yan­gon to Hong Kong on Septem­ber 1, and started a two-month run of flights to Man­dalay on Septem­ber 5. The Man­dalay flights will only run un­til Oc­to­ber 28, which an HK Ex­press spokesper­son told The Myan­mar Times was due to un­spec­i­fied “op­er­a­tional rea­sons”.

How­ever, DCA di­rec­tor of air trans­port U Ne Win said yes­ter­day that HK Ex­press had in­formed the DCA it was sus­pend­ing planned op­er­a­tions to Man­dalay be­cause of prob­lems with fuel qual­ity at Man­dalay air­port.

He added the air­line had not made a for­mal com­plaint, which would re­quire an of­fi­cial let­ter, but had sim­ply pre­sented the is­sue as the rea­son for sus­pend­ing op­er­a­tions.

U Ne Win said that the HK Ex­press flights to Yan­gon were un­af­fected. But the sus­pen­sion of Man­dalay flights could have im­pli­ca­tions for the car­rier’s Yan­gon route. DCA deputy di­rec­tor gen­eral U Ye Htut Aung said that the Chi­nese firm was only al­lowed to op­er­ate a Yan­gon flight on the un­der­stand­ing that it also pro­vided flights to Man­dalay.

“We want to pro­mote Man­dalay as a di­rect flight [des­ti­na­tion],” he told The Myan­mar Times. Un­der the terms of the agree­ment HK Ex­press would have to con­tinue Man­dalay flights in or­der to re­tain access to Yan­gon as a des­ti­na­tion, he added.

U Ye Htut Aung said that HK Ex­press man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Sher­man Luk had men­tioned the fuel prob­lem at a sign­ing cer­e­mony on Septem­ber 1, but the DCA of­fi­cial was un­able to com­ment on the spe­cific na­ture of the prob­lem, only that he un­der­stood that it con­cerned the qual­ity of the fuel.

HK Ex­press de­clined to com­ment on ei­ther the terms of their Man­dalay flight agree­ment with the DCA, or whether the firm had raised is­sues about fuel qual­ity.

“We will ex­plore any op­por­tu­nity to op­er­ate the Man­dalay-Hong Kong route in the fu­ture,” the spokesper­son said.

Of­fi­cials at other air­lines said there had long been is­sues with both the qual­ity and price of air­craft fuel in Myan­mar.

“There have al­ways been fuel is­sues,” said Zaw Min Aung, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Air Man­dalay. “The fuel isn’t very clean here; you of­ten get some dirty com­pounds left over, which are clear when we open the fuel tank for clean­ing. There’s also wa­ter due to rain or han­dling is­sues - this is al­ways an is­sue.”

The dirty com­pounds do not en­dan­ger air travel, he said, but re­sult­ing sed­i­ment can trig­ger cock­pit warn­ings that re­quire time-con­sum­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Daw Aye Mra Tha, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing for Myan­mar Air­ways In­ter­na­tional, said she was not aware of fuel qual­ity is­sues, but said that air­line fuel in Myan­mar was more ex­pen­sive than in other coun­tries.

“We get ours from other coun­tries like Sin­ga­pore or Thai­land when we can,” she said.

U Zaw Min Aung agreed that price was an is­sue, par­tic­u­larly given prob­lems around qual­ity and de­liv­ery.

“They charge a lot more in Myan­mar, so there’s a pric­ing is­sue as well as prob­lems with the clean­li­ness of the fuel.”

Air­line in­dus­try of­fi­cials said that the only seller of air­line fuel in Myan­mar is Myanma Pe­tro­leum Prod­ucts En­ter­prise (MPPE) and a joint ven­ture be­tween MPPE and Puma En­ergy – Na­tional En­ergy Puma Avi­a­tion Ser­vices (NEPAS).

NEPAS was launched in July 2015, ini­tially sup­ply­ing fuel to Yan­gon air­port. The firm plans to be­gin ser­vic­ing the re­main­ing air­ports in Myan­mar dur­ing 2016, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment on Puma En­ergy’s web­site.

An of­fi­cial at MPPE re­ferred ques­tions to NEPAS, and of­fi­cials at NEPAS and Puma En­ergy did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Photo: Staff

Tourists take pic­tures of the sun­set over Man­dalay Hill.

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