Air link for heritage towns in pipeline

PHNOM PENH, 4 December 2017: Myanmar National Airlines has applied for a licence to operate a direct flight between Bagan and Siem Reap, in a move that will give it a competitive advantage over other regional airlines.

Linking the two top heritage sites with a direct flight would be welcomed by tour operators as it would end expensive back tracking through regional hubs and save considerable time for travellers.

Today, there are no international flights linking Bagan directly with other Mekong Region heritage destinations. Bagan’s is served by Nyaung U Airport, 6 km from the  town’s  ancient ruins.

At present, travellers have to fly via Bangkok, Mandalay or Yangon and then connect with a domestic flight to Bagan. However, foreigners are charged double the domestic fares set for Myanmar residents and often travellers are forced to overnight in Yangon or Mandalay.

Domestic fares in Myanmar are at least triple the cost of an international fare from ASEAN capital cities to Yangon or Mandalay. This forces many visitors to travel overland by bus, or train, but journeys between major tourist destinations can take up to 12 hours to complete.

According to a report in Khmer Times,  Myanmar National Airlines, headquartered in Yangon, filed an application with Cambodia’s State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA).

No specific dates were given on when SSCA would respond, although it is understood the airline wishes to fly the route three times weekly.

Cambodia and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding, last month, to assist each other to increase two-way tourism and attract more visits to the two heritage destinations from third countries.

Calling it a “Two Countries, One Destination” campaign the two tourism organisations will promote a tourism routes combining Angkor and Bagan.

Myanmar Times quoted U Thet Lwin Toh, chairman of The Union of Myanmar Travel Association, saying that negotiations regarding the new flight service were ongoing.

“We are still discussing flying a scheduled charter flight with Myanmar National Airlines that would fly three days a week,” U Thet Lwin Toh said. “But it depends on tourist demand.”

Cambodian National Tourism Alliance secretary-general, Ho Vandy said: “It will boost tourist arrivals between the two countries and could become a model of development for the tourism industry, similar to what we already have with Thailand.”

Industry experts, however, overlooked a major obstacle at Bagan. Efforts to introduce flights in the past, such as a direct Bangkok-Bagan route, failed to materialise due the lack of customs and immigration facilities. Bagan is not a designated international checkpoint.  Therefore services heading for Bagan have to make a stop in Yangon or Mandalay to clear immigration.

In the past Air Mandalay and Air Bagan experimented with Chiang Ma-Bagan services, but that too made a technical stop in Yangon for immigration and customs. The flight time took four hours with a two to three hour stop in Yangon.

Bagan is not a UNESCO World Heritage town, but Myanmar hopes it will achieve the status by 2020.

Siem Reap is home to the World Heritge Angkor Wat.