Asian Wings has become the first airline in six years to operate direct flights between Thailand’s second-biggest city, Chiang Mai, and Burma’s second-biggest city, Mandalay.
The airline’s new flight to Chiang Mai touched down on Wednesday, marking the first time that the small Burmese carrier operates an international flight, after it began domestic flights in 2011.
The new route will fly twice per week, on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, according to Yin Yin Nyo Myint, commercial director of Asian Wings, who added that Saturday flights will begin on Feb 15, 2014.
She said the new route was launched because more tourists are visiting as a consequence of “Myanmar’s economic development along with the political changes.”
Air Mandalay used to have direct flights between Mandalay and Chiang Mai, but the route was suspended in August 2008 because the route had become unviable.
Yin Yin Nyo Myint said she expected Asian Wings’ flight to Chiang Mai to attract enough passengers despite growing competition in the Burmese aviation industry, adding that the company was working hard to promote the new flight in both countries.
“Unlike in the past, we now have more competitors, but we expect our seats to be full on our route,” she said. “More visitors are coming in despite [the fact that] our market is being shared.”
The number of domestic and international flights in Burma is expected to expand in coming years due to economic reforms and the opening up of the long-isolated country, which is now experiencing a rapid growth in tourist and business visitors.
International investors are eyeing the Burmese airline industry and Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) announced last year that it would buy a 49-percent stake in Asian Wings.
Asian Wings has a small fleet of four planes and operates flights to 16 domestic destinations. Last year, it also offered charter flights to Bodh Gaya, India, a Buddhist pilgrimage site. Recently, the airline announced it planned to set up flights between Rangoon and southern Thailand’s Phuket, as well as flights to Cambodia’s Siem Reap and Vietnam.
Since 2010, Air Bagan, owned by tycoon Tay Za, operates the only direct flights between Chiang Mai and Rangoon. Other airliners, such as Air Asia, also fly directly between the Thai capital Bangkok and Mandalay.
Mandalay’s old Royal Palace and former royal capitals in the surrounding countryside make it a major tourist attraction in Upper Burma, while it also located several hundred miles from to the famed temples of Bagan.
Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s most important international tourist attractions. The city in northern Thailand has also long been home to a large Burmese community, many of who moved there in recent decades in search of economic opportunities and to escape political repression in their home country.
Wisoot Buachoom, Director of Tourism Authority of Thailand, Chiang Mai office, and Asian Wing’s CEO Kyi Win welcomed the new flight on Wednesday.
“We are very pleased to welcome the first flight of the Asia Wings Airways, flying from Mandalay to Chiang Mai, which will boost the Chiang Mai and Mandalay tourism,” Wisoot Buachoom told The Irrawaddy.
“We like to have more flights, such as Air Asia and Bangkok Air, from Chiang Mai to Mandalay. If the marketing is going well with Asian Wings, there will be more flights from Asian Wings Airways as well as other Thai flights.”
He said he hoped that tourists from both countries would use the new flight. “Actually Chiang Mai people know about Mandalay, I think many people of Chiang Mai will fly to Mandalay for their vacation,” said Wisoot Buachoom. “On other hand, I’d like to invite Myanmar people, especially from Mandalay, to visit us in Chiang Mai.”