Myanmar loses airlines

YANGON, 10 August 2018: At least three airlines in Myanmar appear to have thrown in the towel suspending services without explanation or advance notice.

Local newspapers in Myanmar claimed Asian Wings Airways, Apex Airlines and FMI Air suspended services since July.

Local industry sources said they were crippled by the country’s high fuel cost and a decline in passenger demand during the five-month monsoon season.

Myanmar has around 11 airlines registered for commercial operations with a nation-wide fleet of 60 aircraft.

Asian Wings Airways, one of the airlines identified in local media reports as having scotched services struck back saying it was still operating.

“It is not true that our airline returned its AOC. We are still running our flights,” public relations Manager Yin Myo told Eleven Myanmar.

However, Asian Wings Airways’ website has been stripped of all content, although the various homepage tabs remain. Even the contact section of the website is empty and the booking engine returns the message “no flights available.”

Tour operators said it was still flying, supporting the PR director’s claims, but it is not picking up any bookings from its website. They suggested it was living off cash sales from domestic travellers and traditional travel agency bookings.

This lack of clarity is endemic of all Myanmar airlines. Websites are not updated. Important announcements on the state of operations are omitted. This suggests travellers should exercise caution and book through recognized OTAs or travel agents, who will have updated information on an airline’s operational status.

Eleven Myanmar quoted the Department of Civil Aviation deputy director general, Ye Htut Aung saying: “It is true that Air Bagan and Apex Air have returned their air operator’s certificates (AOC). The rest have not turned them in yet.”

FMI Air suspended all of its services, 20 July, after six years operating domestic flights.

A company spokesperson confirmed the decision claiming it was due to unrelenting and unrealistic cost pressures on Myanmar’s domestic aviation industry.

Founded by business tycoon Serge Pun in September 2012, its apparent success attracted the attention of AirAsia’s chairman Tony Fernandes, who reportedly held discussions with FMI on forming a joint venture airline based out of Yangon.

Talks failed apparently due to opposition from Myanmar’s Department of Civil Aviation and in a matter of weeks FMI Air grounded all services.

The airline’s website still exists, but a visit to confirms the booking engine has been deactivated. The airline did not bother to post a statement on its status, but industry sources said it might make a comeback if the country’s aviation environment changes.

Apex Airlines was also identified by local media and the DCA for suspending all of its services, but the airline’s website offers a glimmer of hope as its booking engine continues to function although it returns the message “no available flights”. Website content has not been scrubbed, but it omits to say why passengers cannot locate any bookable flights.

Mentioning Air Bagan among the airlines that suspended flights last July muddies the picture.

Air Bagan stopped flying in July 2016 and six months later it lost its AOC. In the event the airline wished to resume services it would have to embark on a new AOC application.

At the time Air Bagan’s management issued a terse statement to travel trade partners saying, “we have temporarily stopped our operations.” That was two years ago.

To complete the picture Air Mandalay is still operating services, although a check of its website showed that it was not taking bookings for flights from Yangon to Tachilek and Myitkyina in August. However, effective 1 September, it was possible to book online a flight to Tachilek for a fare of USD113 and USD128 to Myitkyina.

Myanmar National Airlines, the country’s national carrier, launched a new service linking Yangon and Phuket in March and within two months dropped the service claiming traffic was insufficient. It hopes to reinstate the twice-weekly service this October.

Last April it also joined forces with another domestic airline, Mann Yadanarpon Airlines, to create what it called the ‘Myanmar Sky Alliance’.

The commercial partnership started last May and combines the two networks to offer 13 domestic destinations served by ATR72s.

It reflects the state of aviation in Myanmar where there are far too many airlines to serve a market of 3 million domestic passengers and no more than 400,000 foreign tourists.

Domestic airfares are among the most expensive in the region blamed mainly on high fuel costs and government taxes.