Hong Kong carrier suspends Mandalay flights due to concerns over fuel quality
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.
Tourists take pictures of the sunset over Mandalay Hill.