Is it really, as the maxim goes, better late than never?
Macau International Airport announced that its only hometown carrier, Air Macau, will operate a twice-weekly passenger service to Singapore in November and December, as we reported on our premium news source ATI. If you think an airline would have wanted to start a service to Southeast Asia’s financial hub a long time ago, you are spot on, but have not considered the esoteric world of Macau’s commerical aviation.
In the middle of the last decade now-defunct carrier Viva Macau wanted to link Macau with Singapore. Viva was Macau’s second carrier after Air Macau, which was formed in 1994 when Macau was one of the last places on Earth you wanted to be.
To lure businesses, the Macau government offered concessions; Air Macau secured a 25 year monopoly on air services. That meant any new Macau-based airline had to negotiate with Air Macau, who could veto destinations, no explanations needed.
Air Macau rejected Viva’s application to serve Singapore, even though Air Macau did not fly to Singapore. Air Macau said it would start services to Singapore. It never did. In the meanwhile, Tiger Airways and Jetstar Asia stepped in and cornered the market. Air Macau also rejected Viva’s application to serve Nagoya and Seoul and also revoked Viva’s right to fly to Phuket after Viva started operations there.
“You’ve got this really absurd situation where the incumbent says ‘Please don’t let anybody else do anything but, by the way, we’re not interested in doing anything ourselves,’” former Viva Macau CEO Con Korfiatis told me in September 2008. Air Macau’s route rejections undoubtedly contributed to Viva’s weak finances, a situation the Macau government exploited in March by revoking Viva’s AOC, effectively shutting down the carrier–and stagnating growth for Macau.
Air Macau never manifested itself as Macau’s airline, preferring instead to be a hub for passengers transiting between mainland China and Taiwan. Destinations in those countries accounted for 82% of Air Macau’s flights in 2008.
Direct flights between China and Taiwan are now a reality, reducing the need to transit through Macau, and Macau’s tourism and gambling scene is growing and needs a carrier to support the region’s objectives.
Can Air Macau be that carrier? Flying to Singapore seasonally is a belated start.