Published: 24/03/2011 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Business
Air Bagan, the Burmese airline with connections to the ruling junta in Naypyidaw, is opening its second air link with Thailand with the launch of non-stop flights between Phuket and Rangoon.
The twice-a-week service will begin on April 11, using a Fokker 100 twin-turbofan airliner with 92 seats, airline sources said yesterday.
By opening the direct Phuket-Rangoon service, Air Bagan is aiming for new traffic flow, mostly tourists, keen to bypass Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport.
The skies between Bangkok and Rangoon are already congested with several operators including Thai Airways International, Bangkok Airways, Thai AirAsia and Myanmar Airways International offering frequent services.
Since early last year, Air Bagan has been operating from Chiang Mai to Rangoon, also twice a week, with two aircraft types _ a Fokker 100 jet and the smaller ATR 72 turboprop _ depending on passenger volumes.
The launch of the Phuket-Rangoon service reflects management's confidence that it could convince the junta to reinstate the visas on arrival for foreigners, removing a major impediment to international arrivals to Burma.
The junta suspended the facility last November after only a few months, saying international foreign traffic had grown "out of control".
The suspension took place just before the general election on Nov 7 as the regime wanted to screen foreign visitors, who are now required to apply for visa at Burmese embassies.
The fee for a visa on arrival was planned to be US$30 and it would take 30 minutes to be issued.
The full-service airline has given itself three months to gauge traffic demand before deciding the future of the route.
It is promoting the new route by bundling it with a tour package in the Rangoon area. A package costs 20,900 baht for travel from April 11-15 and 19,900 baht for trips taken from April 15-18. The all-in round-trip fare is now 10,900 baht. The flights, every Monday and Friday, take two hours.
Air Bagan operates to 21 destinations within Burma.