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Myanmar carrier to boost international routes with lease deal

11 february 2014, 17:37
0
Myanmar's national carrier on Tuesday signed a deal to lease 10 Boeing aircraft worth nearly $1 billion that will ply international routes in a bid to tap booming tourism as the once-reclusive country opens up to the world, AFP reports.

Under the agreement, forged on the opening day of the Singapore Airshow, state-owned Myanma Airways will lease the Boeing 737s from GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS), the commercial leasing and financing arm of US giant General Electric.

"Myanma Airways, which has suspended international operations since 1993, is now going to re-enter the international market with the support of our good friend and partner GECAS," Myanmar Transportation Minister Nyan Htun Aung said at the signing ceremony.

"We hope that we could become well known again to international air travellers," he said, alongside GECAS executives and US ambassador to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell.

Mitchell described the agreement as the "largest commercial sale" by a US company to Myanmar in decades.

"It is an important moment for both our countries and I assume it will be the first of many such moments among American businesses and Myanmar," he said.

Delivery of the planes, whose total list value is $960 million, is scheduled to begin in June next year.

"The contract calls for six Boeing 737-800 models and four Boeing 737-MAX models. The aircraft will deliver through 2020," GECAS said in a statement.

It will be a major makeover for flag carrier Myanma Airways, which was established in 1948 and currently operates mostly domestic services using Fokker F28 jets and ATR turboprops.

For flights to smaller domestic airports, Myanma Airways uses Beechcraft and Cessna planes.

"We are pleased at GE to work with Myanma Airways to provide new, state-of-the-art Boeing aircraft," said Norman Liu, president and chief executive of GECAS.

"This is an important milestone for the airline and for the development of Myanmar's aviation industry."

Nyan Htun Aung said the new Boeing planes would be used to expand the carrier's routes to Japan and South Korea.

He said the rapid rise in both domestic and international passenger growth rates since decades of junta rule ended in 2011 provided the impetus for the airline to expand.

He said the 10 leased Boeing aircraft would "greatly enhance" the reform of Myanma Airways as well as the government's push to develop the country's air transport sector.

The carrier's sole international destination currently is Gaya in India, which is important for Buddhist pilgrims. It carried 500,000 passengers last year compared to 230,000 in 2010.

Japan's All-Nippon Airways last year acquired a 49 percent stake in another Myanmar-based carrier, Asian Wings Airways, which commenced its first international service to Thailand in January.

Myanmar President Thein Sein has overseen a series of dramatic reforms since taking office in 2011, including the release of political prisoners and the election of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

In response, the West has begun rolling back sanctions. Foreign firms are lining up to invest and overseas visitors are flocking to the country, putting a strain on its fast-growing but overstretched aviation and tourist industries.

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