Myanmar National Airways takes wing again in foreign skies

State-owned carrier Myanmar National Airlines (MNA), formerly Myanma Airways, flew across the country’s borders for the first time in more than two decades yesterday.

The 67-year-old airline’s inaugural international flight, which departed from Yangon International Airport for Singapore at 10:15am yesterday, comes in the midst of the company’s multi-million-dollar brand transformation as it courts foreign travellers and ramps up services for competition on the regional stage.

MNA began its brand makeover last year, promoting new routes and announcing additions to its fleet in December. At a structural level, the company – while remaining state-owned – is operating as a “commercial entity under government control”, according to MNA.

The firm’s new Singapore service, the first of five Asia-Pacific routes to launch by the beginning of 2016, is MNA’s first international flight since 1993. The company picked the Lion City over Bangkok because the trip to Singapore is longer and the airport has better international connections, according to Minister of Transport U Nyan Htun Aung.

Bangkok earned a lower spot on the list because of its proximity to Yangon, he said.

“Many, many small airlines are operating [the Yangon-Bangkok route] so we don’t like to compete with these congested competitors,” he said. “First priority is Singapore, then Taipei in Taiwan, or Hong Kong in China.”

MNA chief executive officer Captain Than Tun echoed this plan by announcing that MNA targets flying to Taipei and Hong Kong in the first week of December.

Meanwhile, MNA’s new Boeing 737 will fly the Singapore route, he said in a statement. The aircraft, which touched down in Myanmar in June, will be joined by nine others in years to come. MNA’s second 737 is due in October.

Six other aircraft will join the fleet to fly domestically, with two set to land before 2016.

The refreshed brand gives “the country an airline that will be a strong competitive force in the region, worthy of flying the national flag,” Capt Than Tun said in a statement yesterday.

The upgrade also includes new tech, with a website set up for e-booking and payment, according to the company. The airline is also offering tiered tickets in business class, premium economy and economy.

Myanmar National Airlines has updated its image before. The firm started out as Myanmar Civil Aviation in 1948 with in-country services to 19 airports, and flights to Bangkok, Calcutta and Chittagong launched in 1950, the company said.

Two years later, the airline was born anew under the Union of Burma Airways Act, with international flights running for 41 years.

Under the name Myanma Airways for 25 years from 1989, the carrier flew domestic-only for 22 years – until yesterday. MNA now claims the most domestic destinations offered by any Myanmar airline, 26.

Myanmar National Airlines’ leap into international competition comes at an important juncture for the country. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism expects 4.5 to 5 million tourists to come to Myanmar this year, and 7.5 million by 2020, as previously reported by The Myanmar Times.

Minister U Nyan Htun Aung predicts a more than 25 percent bump in foreign travellers in the near future, adding that he hopes the results of the election will promote a good image of Myanmar, leading more foreign tourists and travellers to visit the country.

Flights between Yangon and Singapore will run every day except Saturday. Daily flights could begin in late October. The route departs Myanmar at 10:15am local time and arrives back at 5:30pm local time.

The airline’s ticket prices are competitive with rivals in the region at US$239 round trip from Yangon and SGD289 from Singapore, though low-cost carriers beat out its promotional prices.

Source: Myanmar Times

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