Aviation: With the revision of the air services agreement between Bhutan and Myanmar,  Bhutanese airlines can now exercise third and fourth freedom traffic rights and fifth freedom traffic rights.

The agreement to this effect between the two countries was signed in Thimphu yesterday.

The designated Bhutanese airline or airlines will have the right to operate its flight to additional routes from Myanmar to Singapore or Malaysia. Also the government can now designate Tashi Air as the second airline from Bhutan.

The first air services agreement between the two countries was signed in August 2002.

However, the need to revise the bilateral air services agreement arose mainly to address the rapidly changing aviation scenario, and also in the context of the introduction of Bhutan Airlines.

With limited routes, the director of the civil aviation authority, Wangdi Gyaltshen, said the Bhutanese airlines are struggling to sustain their operations. He said the Bhutanese government considers the agreement as a clear indication of the importance given by the Myanmar government to enhance bilateral cooperation in the aviation sector.

Expanding route network and increasing flight frequencies, particularly with fifth freedom traffic rights, are some of the options Bhutan has been exploring for a long time.

With many holy Buddhist sites in Myanmar, Bhutanese pilgrims are expected to explore Myanmar as a destination. The agreement is also expected to promote trade between the two countries.

The delegation from Myanmar was led by the director general of the country’s civil aviation department, Min Lwin.

The designated airlines will have the right to operate passenger and cargo services with unrestricted capacity, frequency and aircraft type to and from all points in Myanmar other than Yangon and up to a total of five services each way per week to and from Yangon.

The designated Bhutanese airline will have the right to exercise the fifth freedom traffic rights, in each direction on the routes specified, at five freely selected intermediate points and five freely selected beyond points with exception of some sectors. The Yangon-Gaya and vice versa (VV), Mandalay-Gaya and VV, Yangon-Bangkok and VV, Yangon-Singapore and VV and Yangon-Kuala Lumpur and VV sectors have received the exception.

Also, the designated airlines can operate two frequencies per week using any aircraft type on the Mandalay-Gaya, Yangon-Bangkok and Yangon-Singapore or Yangon-Kuala Lumpur sectors.

The civil aviation authority is optimistic that the government of Myanmar will continue to respond positively to the opportunities in future to expand the bilateral relations in the aviation industry. “We in Bhutan are particularly happy with the growing relations between the two countries,” the director said.

The director added that the two countries always enjoyed close and friendly relations. Both are Buddhist countries and have pilgrimage sites for Buddhists from around the world.

The director said that both the countries in recent years have had growing interaction at the highest levels of governance. In 2014, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay attended the BIMSTEC summit where he held discussions with a deputy minister on the need to revise the bilateral air services agreement and resumption of air services.

The director said the agreement will become the channel of socio-economic and political ties.

The revision of the agreement was initiated by the information and communications ministry upon directives from the prime minister to promote tourism and people-to-people contact.

MB Subba