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Myanmar is open for business but where are the flights?

Souns of Silence: Several weeks after opening Yangon International Airport to international flights as living-with-Covid becomes policy in much of the globe, there is not much activity in Burmese skies. Why?

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by Don Ross

Founding Editor TTR Weekly/ Chiang Rai/ May 2022

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Yangon International Airport resounds with emptiness as it awaits the return of international flights in 2022

Yangon International Airport resounded with silence as Myanmar threw open its doors to international travellers once again in April 2022

FOR Myanmar’s military junta, the easy part was announcing international commercial flights would be welcome starting on 17 April 2022. The hard part remains; convincing airlines there is enough travel demand to justify scheduled services.

Some weeks after opening Yangon International Airport to international flights, there is not much to discuss. Courtesy of Flightradar24, a fact check of flights landing and departing Yangon from 22 to 30 April show there are international flights to and from just 10 countries. If you include domestic flights, Yangon connects with 28 airports and the busiest route up until 30 April will be Yangon-Mandalay, with 43 flights. Until the end of April, 288 flights will land and take off at Yangon’s airport mainly serving domestic routes with a smattering of overseas destinations.

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Flightradar24 counts services from 10 countries in Asia and the Middle East until 30 April, a mix of freighter and commercial airlines. Most passenger flights are repatriating Myanmar citizens or serving the family travel segment. Very few foreigners are visiting the country except those on business or making essential trips to reunite with families in Myanmar.

{It will require lots and lots of loose cash to visit Myanmar as international credit cards are still not accepted, and ATMs are offline...

Flightradar24 identifies international cargo and passenger services flying from China, Dubai, India, Japan, Malaysia, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

Myanmar Airlines International deployed repatriation flights to various cities in Asia throughout 2021 and the first quarter of 2022 that were allowed during the two-year ban on international services due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since 17 April, MAI continues as the dominant airline serving overseas destinations. For example, there are flights scheduled by Myanmar Airlines International and China Southern through to 30 April from two airports in China (Nanning, Wuxu airport) and Guangzhou Baiyun.

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MAI offers flights to Dubai, India (Kolkata and Delhi), Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Taoyuan in Taiwan, Tokyo, Japan and Doha, Qatar.

From Bangkok, in addition to the MAI services, Thai Airways (TG304) scheduled flights on 23 April and again on 28 April. Also flying from Bangkok, the India-based airline IndiGo flew just one service on 22 April and Qatar scheduled flights to Yangon from Bangkok on 24 and 28 April.

In addition to the MAI services from Singapore to Yangon, Singapore Airlines scheduled four services from 22 April to 30 April. The same applies to Kuala Lumpur, where MAI provides the bulk of the services to Yangon, with Malaysia Airlines scheduling three services from 24 April to 30 April. MAI is the only airline serving cities in Korea, Japan, India and Dubai.

The 17 April announcement flies the flag for the military junta to boast it is getting business back to normal when the facts suggest otherwise. As far as international flights landing and taking off at Yangon Airport are concerned, very few international airlines offer flights even from Southeast Asian capital cities, except for Malaysia (MH), Singapore (SQ) and Thailand (TG).

That will change as travel demand increases, but the negatives are stacked high against consumer travel demand recovering anytime soon.

Promotions assure travellers they can apply for an eVisa online as was the case before Covid-19 struck the region in 2020. Myanmar had one of the most user-friendly eVisa services in the ASEAN region but not today. Despite the assurances, travellers will hit digital glitches when they tap the link to the government’s official website evisa.moip.gov.mm/ .

Once you click on apply for a tourist visa a temporary suspension message pops up. Link to suspension message: evisa.moip.gov.mm/Home/TemporarySuspension

Foreign exchange: It will require lots of cash to visit Myanmar as international credit cards are not accepted, and ATMs are offline. To be on the safe side once you land at Yangon airport, you will need to present a stash of crisp new US dollars to exchange for Myanmar Kyat (20,000 Kyat equals US$10.77) to start the holiday. It is possible to exchange US dollars for local currency at military junta authorised foreign exchange counters and banks. You can also pre-pay hotel and tour costs directly in US dollars to registered hotels and travel agencies.

Unfortunately, your US dollars exchanged or spent in Myanmar will filter through to the coffers of the military junta that ended democratic rule in the country through a 1 February 2021 military coup. It led to a deadly military and police crackdown that caused a tragic loss of life. Thousands of citizens have since been imprisoned without trial, and until they are released, travellers should vote with their feet and head to destinations that respect human rights.

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