Tashi Air plans to fly via Myanmar and may concentrate on the market there

Aviation: Despite concerns raised that the market may not be large enough for two airlines, Tashi Air will join Drukair in connecting Singapore to Bhutan.

“Survival of the fittest,” Tashi Air CEO Phala Dorji said in reference to concerns on two airlines competing for a limited market.

National airline Drukair had strongly recommended in February that Tashi Air reconsider its decision on flying to Singapore given that demand is not high enough for two airlines. According to Drukair, during the tourist season its aircraft usually flies with around 60-65 passengers between Paro and Singapore, which is a 40-45 percent cabin load. This drops to 15-20 passengers during the off-season.

Phala Dorji said that it is a valid concern when it comes to business sustainability. He added that demand would also depend on how they market the route. But he also pointed out that Tashi Air is looking at flying to Singapore via Myanmar and that it may instead concentrate on the market there.

Drukair currently flies to Singapore twice a week via Kolkata.

The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) recently also obtained additional fifth freedom rights from Myanmar for a Bhutanese airline to fly to either Singapore or Kaula Lampur in Malaysia via Yangon. Fifth freedom rights means that the Bhutanese airline can also pick up paying passengers from Myanmar.

Myanmar aviation authorities had initially been reluctant to grant any additional rights until an existing one of two flights a week to Bangkok via Yangon, granted in 2002, were surrendered as it was being unused. This move was opposed by Drukair pointing out that Bangkok served as a start or end point for travellers that may be looking to visit the Himalayan region. Drukair plans to recommence flights to Myanmar from next year.

Following a high-level meeting with Myanmar, the government was able to obtain the additional rights while keeping the existing ones as well. Additionally, the government was able to obtain one more flight to Bangkok via Yangon, bringing the total to three in a week.

However, DCA director Wangdi Gyaltshen said that the revisions have been “in principle” approved by Myanmar and that the Air Service Agreement with the country will have to be updated for the changes to become official.

By Gyalsten K Dorji