Myanmar is one of the few countries in Southeast Asia to strictly limit the number of international airports. So far, only Yangon, Mandalay, and Naypyidaw are officially designated to handle international flights. Regular reports about the opening of Nyaung-U airport, the gateway to the fabled site of Bagan with its hundreds of temples and shrines.
Most of the time, the incapacity of Myanmar smaller airports to accommodate international flights is due to a lack of equipment, from a longer runway to all-weather landing instruments or to immigration facilities.
Then comes China with its will to invest all across the world. And Myanmar is part of China Silk Road Initiative which is planning to revive the old links between countries along the silk and spice road of medieval times. China is investing heavily to link up countries through rail and road links as well as air connections.
According to an interview given by U Kyaw Win, Union Minister for Planning and Finance to the newspaper Myanmar Times, three country’s local airports will be upgraded to international standards with the help of China. The upgrades will then help to attract in priority Chinese travellers but also other international visitors.
The Myanmar government is indeed realising that many Chinese travellers are deterred to come as they are not enough direct flights due to the lack of international airports. Chinese to Myanmar represent less than 500,000 travellers per year, a far outcry if compared to Thailand and its 10 million Chinese tourists.
Upgrading 3 airports
“There are airports in Heho, Magway, and Pakokku that already have runways but lack the capacity to handle international aircraft. The Chinese want to visit Myanmar but we don’t have good airports to accommodate them. So, we will upgrade them to become international airports so that they are able to receive these tourists,” U Kyaw Win said.
Heho airport is serving the attractive Inle Lake and Taunggyi, the fifth largest city of Myanmar. Magway airport is situated along the Irrawaddy River, West of Naypyidaw. Pakokku airport is located upstream of the Irrawaddy. While the city has a high number of historical pagodas, the airport could be also an alternative for Bagan as it is only 30 km away from the archeological area.
The upgrading of the three airports is consequently seen as part of China Silk Road Project. “There will be many big projects in Myanmar under this corridor and anyone, including local entrepreneurs who want to invest, will be invited and supported”, U Kyaw Win explained. Investments in any of the projects under B&R can be made either 100 percent or in partnership with China, U Kyaw Win added.
Japan upgrades Nyaung-U airport
Meanwhile, in Bagan, Japan is currently looking at upgrading Nyaung-U airport. Japan is providing a grant worth US$42 million to extend the runway and enlarge the apron to accommodate larger aircraft. The construction starts this year to allow larger aircraft to take-off and land at Nyaung-U airport in 2019. The Ministry hopes that local Chinese airlines, as well as Bangkok Airways from Thailand, will then open direct routes to Bangkok as well as Siem Reap.
Plans for Thandwe and Kawthaung airports
Finally, there are also plans to upgrade Thandwe and Kawthaung airports in the South as demand is high for the Myeik Archipelago and for seaside resorts along the Andaman Sea. Kawthaung airport upgrade has already been approved by the government.
Baolau integrates international flights from Thailand to Myanmar
as well as from Vietnam to Yangon