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Quiet debut for Mandalay airport

September 21, 2000

Quiet debut for Mandalay airport; With only domestic flights for now,
facility can handle international traffic if tourism climate improves

Mandalay International Airport was officially opened
last Sunday despite the fact that scheduled flights to
the Burmese city by  international airlines are not on
the immediate horizon.

The airport is located 35 km south of Mandalay city. It has
been designed to accommodate all available commercial
aircraft up to the 450-passenger Boeing 747-400.

The first 747 to land at Mandalay airport touched down
yesterday, when executives of All Nippon Airways
paid a flying visit, but the Japanese carrier has no
plans for regular service there.

Mandalay airport can serve 1,000 passengers per
hour or three million a year, with expansion
capacity to more than 15 million. At 4,267 metres,
the runway is 517 metres longer than the one at
Bangkok International Airport.

Primary and secondary radar and navigational aids
are used to monitor, guide and assist in the
movement of air traffic within 200 miles of the airport.

Its terminal has six passenger loading bridges to
accommodate a variety of aircraft from a Boeing
747-400 to the smaller Boeing 737 and Airbus A320
models. With a total area of 37,020 square
metres, the airport terminal has ample space to
accommodate passengers with 15,367 square
metres for the arrivals area, 16,016 on the mezzanine,
and 3,556 for the service area.

The $3.15-billion airport was first conceived in 1996
and built by Italian-Thai Development Plc.
Thai Airport Ground Service Co, a privately owned
operator, is providing ground service under a
one-year contract, and also training local staff.

Currently the airport has 16 domestic flights a day.
It was intended to become a magnet for
international flights since it can handle large aircraft
that are unable to land at Rangoon International
Airport. However, low tourist volume means few
international carriers are looking to expand

Rangoon's awkward tourism policies are partly to blame.
The lack of visas on arrival makes many
tourists hesitant to fly into Burma.

The legal requirement for every visitor to change
US$200 US into local kyat currency also rankles
visitors, given the colossal gap between the official
and black-market exchange rates.

Add to the practical inconveniences the unease that
some tourists feel about spending money in a
country run by a military junta, and the tourism outlook
for Burma does not appear good in the immediate future.

Burma last year failed to achieve its tourist arrival target
of 300,000 during its Visit Myanmar Year,
welcoming just 150,000 tourists instead.
[and probably many of these were day trippers to Tachilek:
by road-- DA]

Dr Prasert Prasartthong-osoth, president of
Thailand-based Bangkok Airways, said his airline did
not have enough pilots to service to Mandalay now,
although the route had been planned several
years ago.

"All of our aircraft are running at 99.97 percent
ultilisation and our pilots are working on a full
schedule. It takes a long time to train personnel
to reach a satisfactory level of quality," he said.

Bangkok Airways used to operate a Bangkok-Mandalay-
Pagan route in 1993 before cancelling the service.


And just in case anyone had escaped my exposure of the REAL
reasons for the $3billion investment, here it is again, with a
few additions...


I suspect that the construction of the new Mandalay airport is another
of the generals' attempts to acquire luck and magical power in their contest
with the Lady -- this time by possession of a large white elephant.

In Burma as in most South and South-east Asia, the white elephant is
traditionally regarded as semi-divine, and is treated with great veneration:
"The 'Lord White Elephant'- or Sinbyudaw- commanded social status second
only to the king in the hierarchy of the  royal court. Sinbyudaw were treated
with reverence and had white parasols held over them wherever they went.
Young white elephants were even suckled  by women in the royal court who
considered it a great honour to feed the  elephant with their own milk"
(Asiatours history of Myanmar )

While it is unlikely that the members of the State Peace and Development 
will literally emulate the ladies of the Burmese court,  we should not be 
surprised to
read of senior officers walking round the airport, shading the runways with 
umbrellas, or spraying them with milk from tankers ("donated" by local

What is certain is that the new Mandalay Airport is the biggest and most 
Burmese White Elephant of recent days, and is thus likely to bring good 
to those responsible. The only problem is that the actual use of the airport by
tourists and other foreigners, arriving in wide-bodied jets and wearing shoes,
could well profane the site and thus reduce the benefit.  With this in 
mind, the
military junta will no doubt do its utmost to discourage tourism by 
stepping up
the frequency of atrocities, increasing the penalties for foreign 
distribution of
leaflets, maintaining current visa requirements and placing administrative
obstacles in the way of air carriers and  tour operators. Oh yes, and 
making sure
there is not enough generating capacity to avoid airport brown-outs at awkward
moments. In fact they will do whatever it takes to keep the balance tilted 
them in their magical contest with the Lady.