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ANALYSIS: Myanmar opportunities beckon for carriers

Myanmar's airline industry is set to open up after the country's emergence from two decades of diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions. By-elections on 1 April led to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi - imprisoned for much of the last 20 years - and her party winning 43 out of the 44 available seats.

While the military junta that took power in 1991 remains in control, albeit after converting itself into a civilian government in 2011, the release of Suu Kyi and the by-elections have led the USA, the European Union and other countries to ease sanctions.

Companies are rushing to take advantage of the newly available opportunities, while the leisure market is set to boom in a country that has been off the tourist map for decades. All this is likely to lead to a growth in air links.

Within the country, the main beneficiary is likely to be state-owned carrier Myanmar Airways International. It flies from Yangon, the main international airport, to capitals Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh, as well as Siem Reap in Cambodia and Guangzhou in China. It could add services from a new airport at the capital, Naypyidaw, and the tourist town of Mandalay, say sources.

Privately-owned Air Bagan and Air Mandalay mainly serve the domestic market, while the former also flies to Chiang Mai and Phuket in Thailand. Both could increase their domestic services as well as offer more international services - either by themselves or in a partnership with foreign carriers.

Thailand is the country currently connected to Myanmar with the most flights and Thai Airways, Thai AirAsia and Bangkok Airways are all set to increase services into Myanmar, with Bangkok Airways reportedly in codeshare talks with Air Bagan.

Vietnam Airlines has been flying to Myanmar since 2011 from both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and could increase the frequency of those services. Cambodia Angkor Air could also offer services to Myanmar.

Singapore's Jetstar Asia has increased the frequency of its services, while Singapore Airlines subsidiary SilkAir already flies twice-daily to Yangon. Tiger Airways could also begin services.

Airlines outside Southeast Asia are also getting in. China's airlines are eyeing opportunities, while Taiwan's China Airlines will increase the frequency of its Taipei-Yangon services. Qatar Airways aims to resume services in October after four years, while Japan's All Nippon Airways is planning to resume services this fiscal year after 12 years.

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