EVA Airways of Taiwan is in discussions to invest in and take over the operations of Myanmar Airways International (MAI) from the carrier's Brunei-backed Singapore joint venture partner Highsonic Enterprises.

Senior sources within the Taiwanese airline confirm that a team has been dispatched to MAI to carry out due diligence, with a view to acquiring up to a 50% stake. The proposed deal would entail EVA taking over the complete running of the Singapore-managed regional airline.

"We've been approached and are now studying the business case," confirms an EVA executive. It is understood that Highsonic wants to pull out of the five-year-old partnership with state-owned Myanmar Airways. Neither MAI's Singapore-based managing director, nor its operations director were available for comment.

MAI was established in 1993 as a joint venture, with 60% held by Highsonic, which in turn is partially owned by the Brunei Baiduri group. The remaining stock was owned by Myanmar Airways, which has continued to operate services on domestic routes in its own right.

The airline is believed to have been suffering from a downturn in international traffic as a result of Asia's recent economic difficulties and Yangon's continuing political isolation. Services from Yangon to Dhaka, Kunming and Jakarta have been discontinued, leaving the carrier serving only Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Dissolution of the Burmese-Singapore joint venture is likely to involve the return of MAI's two leased Boeing 737-400s to Malaysia Airlines. EVA, accordingly, is looking at re-equipping the airline with four British Aerospace 146s, belonging to its Taiwanese domestic subsidiary, Uni Airways, which has been trying to sell the 112-seat jets.

The change in MAI ownership will not effect Myanmar's other joint venture, with Singapore carrier Air Mandalay. The airline, which was established in 1994 as a 51:49 partnership between Myanmar and Kemayon-owned Air Mandalay Holdings, is now operating three ATR 72s on domestic routes and to Chiangmai in Thailand.

Source: Flight International