Myanmar’s flag carrier returns overseas with Yangon-S’pore route

SINGAPORE: After a 22-year hiatus, flag carrier Myanmar National Airlines (MNA) on Monday (Aug 17) resumed flying overseas as it launched its international flight from Yangon to Singapore, despite other Myanmar airlines having struggled to compete with Singaporean carriers on the highly competitive route.

The re-christened Myanmar flag carrier, formerly known as Union of Burma Airways, plans to operate four international routes beyond Singapore by early next year, including Hong Kong and Taiwan. It plans to acquire 10 new aircraft by 2020 – six Boeing 737-800NGs and four 737 MAX 8s – and has taken possession of the first of these in June.

“It (Yangon-Singapore) is a highly popular route, both for Singaporeans visiting Myanmar and for Myanmar people coming to the Lion City,” MNA chief executive, captain Than Tun, told TODAY. “It was the obvious choice to be the first international destination.”

Besides MNA, Myanmar currently has three international carriers: Myanmar Airways International (MAI), Air Bagan, and Golden Myanmar Airways. While MAI flies to a number of international destinations, both Air Bagan and Golden Myanmar only operate one international route: From Yangon to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Analysts say the Yangon-Singapore route is experiencing overcapacity, which has led to capacity cutbacks by Myanmar carriers recently. MAI pruned its capacity on this route, and Golden Myanmar withdrew from it altogether. Other carriers on this route include Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, Tigerair, and Jetstar Asia.

“MNA will inevitably face the same challenges in Singapore as other Myanmar carriers, particularly given that its brand is an unknown in the international market,” said Mr Brendan Sobie, chief analyst at aviation consultancy CAPA Singapore. “North Asia, which MNA plans to enter in the coming months, will also be … challenging.”

Capt Than Tun, though, is unperturbed, saying that the number of visitors to Myanmar is growing rapidly. The country is projected to receive about 4.5 million visitors this year, up nearly 30 per cent from last year, he said.

“Most forecasters see this growth trend continuing. We feel that it is the right time to roll out our regional expansion plans and tap into this growing demand for travel to Myanmar. Competition within the region will present challenges, but MNA’s promise is to deliver a unique Myanmar customer experience and connections,” he added.

MNA plans to fly to China next year after the delivery of its third and fourth aircraft, Capt Than Tun said on the sidelines of the launch event at Changi airport.

However, analysts said there are signs of a slowdown in Myanmar’s international market, with no foreign airline launching services to the country in the last 18 months, while several of the 22 foreign carriers currently serving the market have cut capacity in recent months. Moreover, several domestic carriers are waiting in the wings to launch international services.

“MNA has been a consistently profitable business and was recently corporatised by its owner, the Myanmar government. While the launch of international routes requires a certain level of investment, MNA is a commercially led organisation with plans in place to turn all new routes into profit contributors,” Capt Than Tun said. The airline is also open to alliances with Singaporean and other international airlines, he added.

MNA quit operating foreign routes in 1993 and continued with domestic flights when MAI was launched as Myanmar’s international airline. In 2013, MNA once again set its sights abroad after the government sold its stake in MAI to Myanmar bank KBZ – which also owns Air KBZ, one of Myanmar’s 10 domestic carriers.

MNA will fly between Yangon and Singapore daily, except on Saturdays.

Source: Channel News Asia

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