Thai AirAsia eyes Myanmar capital

BANGKOK, 29 February 2012: Low-cost Thai AirAsia says it will start a service to Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw by year-end and add around five destinations during the first half of the year from three bases in Thailand.

Thai AirAsia CEO, Tassapon Bijleveld confirmed new services to Chongqing and Chennai, 23 March. So far, the airline has announced five new destinations for the first half of the year; of which two are domestic — Trang (15 Janaury), Nakhon Phanom (15 February).

The others are regional flights starting with Colombo and Sri Lanka, (1 March).Other regional services are planned from its bases in Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai during the second half of the year. Mr Tassapon said the airline should add around the same numbers of destinations as in the first half of the year, but declined to name them except to say one was to Naypyidaw, the new capital city of Myanmar.

“We are in the process of acquiring permission to operate flights to Naypyidaw..The service should be able to commence this year,” he said.Naypyidaw International Airport opened in December 2011, capable of handling up to 3.5 million passengers a year, although at present the only services are domestic flights from Yangon, Mandalay and Heho.

“It (Naypyidaw) is the administrative centre of government so there will be a growing demand for direct travel as the country opens to investors,” added Mr Tassapon.He is also looking at destinations in India and China, but has reduced the flight time radius to 3.5 hours due to high fuel costs

“Longer range flights are not feasible as long as fuel costs remain high,” he said.Before the airline set the limit at four hours, but due to rising fuel costs it was forced to end its services to Delhi and Mumbai.
“The fuel price will remain volatile and we cannot just simply resume when the price drops or cancel with it rises.”Airlines serving India are subject to a substantial aviation fuel tax of around 23%, which is crippling the country’s domestic airlines and was a factor in Kingfisher’s current financial troubles.“We are looking at Mekong Region secondary cities,” commented Mr Tassapon who identified Danang, Nha Trang and Hue in Vietnam; Sihanoukville in Cambodia; Mandalay in Myanmar and Pakse in Laos as having potential.

Also, there have been requests to fly to Kunming, Hong Kong and Macau from its Chiang Mai base and to Indian cities such as Chennai and Bangalore from Phuket.Phuket is now a popular destination for Indian weddings.This year Thai AirAsia will add three more A320s to be delivered in addition to the two that arrived earlier in the year.The airline targets 8 million passengers by the end of this year. Last year, it flew 6.8 million passengers, slightly off its 7 million target.