Local authorities are pressing start-up carrier Air Macau to expand and diversify its services regionally, in an effort to reduce the Portuguese enclave's overwhelming reliance on traffic between China and Taiwan.

After a slow start, traffic at Macau's new international airport is picking up, and is projected to reach 1.8 million passengers by the end of the year, compared to 1.3 million in 1996. The 20-month-old airport's heavy dependence on Taiwanese-Chinese transit traffic, however, makes it vulnerable to an eventual resumption of direct flights between the two countries.

Of the 787,500 passengers passing through the airport in the first five months of this year, 65% originated in Taiwan and another 22% came from China. Air Macau now accounts for some 50% of the airport's traffic, and all but three of its 101 weekly frequencies are to either China or Taiwan.

"One of the things we're asking Air Macau to do is to diversify its routes to mainland China and extend its network to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region," says Jose Queiroz, chairman of the Macau civil-aviation authority.

Macau has already concluded 30 bilateral air-service agreements with other countries, but aside from seven destinations in China and Taiwan, Air Macau now flies only to Bangkok .

Air Macau's main Sino-Portuguese shareholders, however, are hesitant to expand too rapidly for fear of driving up costs. It claims to have lost $6.7 million in 1996 and is hopeful of breaking even this year. "Our strategy is to balance growth with our financial situation," cautions Air Macau president and vice-chairman, Leonel Miranda.

The carrier's more immediate plans call for the addition of a twice-weekly service to Manila from early July. Attention is also focused on high-yield traffic to and from Japan, but a bilateral agreement has still to be finalised. Other regional markets are being examined. Air Macau is seeking to expand its fleet from its four leased Airbus A321s and two A320s to cope with any expansion.

Source: Flight International