Lao Airlines expands fleet as business takes off
National carrier Lao Airlines has purchased more aircraft in response to increasing passenger numbers as Laos becomes more closely integrated with the region and the world.
A new Airbus A320 arrived in Vientiane this month, bringing the total number owned by the carrier to four, while a new ATR will join the fleet later this month, Director of Lao Airlines' Commercial Department, Mr Saleum Tayarath, said on Wednesday.
Lao Airlines is gearing up to serve the growing number of customers.
“We will use our Airbus planes on the Vientiane-Luang Prabang route and international routes. We will use the ATRs on domestic flights only,” he said.
In October this year, Lao Airlines will begin direct flights to Myanmar as part of the provisions for increased air connectivity within the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) countries.
Lao Airlines sees the great potential offered by the Myanmar route now that the country has opened its doors to foreign investment and tourism.
“Our reason for opening the flight to Myanmar is not because we're specifically targeting passengers from Laos and Myanmar, but we're looking at the demand from other countries like China, the Republic of Korea and Japan,” Mr Saleum said.
The new route would also open up links between the ACMECS countries to further spur tourism and business activities in the sub-region.
Lao Airlines used to fly between Vientiane and Yangon in the 1980s but cancelled the service because it was unprofitable.
But the situation has changed now that Myanmar is making great strides with its democratisation reform. Investors and tourists are flocking to the country so Lao Airlines believes this route will now be profitable.
In the other direction, Myanmar Airways International plans to start flights to the World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang. The airline unveiled its intention during talks with Lao Airlines officials in Germany recently.
Lao Airlines is also considering starting flights to Phnom Penh in Cambodia later this year in another move aimed at business growth amid surging air travel in the region.
The airline operates flights mainly to other Asean member countries, including Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore.
The carrier has also begun regular flights to Seoul in a bid to attract more tourists from the Republic of Korea. China is another thriving market and Lao Airlines flies from Vientiane to Kunming and Guangzhou, and from Luang Prabang to Xieng Houng.
In 2010, Lao Airlines recorded only about 500,000 passengers, but in 2012 the figure jumped to about 900,000 customers and is expected to exceed 1 million people this year.
The number of tourist arrivals in Laos reached 3.3 million in 2012, an increase of 22 percent compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, Cambodia received more than 3.5 million tourists in 2012 and Myanmar just over 1 million.
By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update March 21, 2013)