Air Transport, Civil

Air Transport, Civil
   Before World War II, Imperial Airways of Britain offered service to Sittwe (Sittway, then known as Akyab) in present-day Arakan (Rakhine) State and Rangoon (Yangon), landing at the aerodrome at Mingaladon, which served then (as now) as the country's major international facility; competitor KLM Royal Dutch Airways also connected Rangoon with Europe, Singapore, and the Netherlands East Indies metropolis of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia). For a brief period, the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company operated domestic air service between Rangoon, Mandalay, and other points in central and southern Burma.
   After Burma became independent in 1948, the Union of Burma Air Transport Board was established, which became Union of Burma Airways (UBA) the next year. Following the Karen (Kayin) uprising of January 1949, domestic air links between the capital and beleaguered upcountry towns became vital for the survival of Prime Minister U Nu's government, and UBA chartered a number of overseas private airlines to fly troops and supplies. Among these was Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific, which, in the words of one chronicler, was "something of a buccaneering outfit." After the government regained control of most of the central part of the country in 1950, contracts with foreign charter airlines were ended, and UBA expanded its service; by 1953, UBA's DC-3 aircraft were flying between Rangoon and 35 domestic destinations, including Keng Tung and Myitkyina in remote Shan and Kachin States.
   In the mid-1950s, Mingaladon airport's newly completed, airconditioned terminal building and 2,470-meter (8,100-foot)-long runway were among the best in Asia; the airport was included on east-west routes by major international airlines, including British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), KLM, and Pan American Airways. But these airlines dropped their services during the Ne Win era (1962-1988), reflecting the country's isolation and economic stagnation. UBA flew domestic and international routes with Fokker F-27 and F-28 aircraft and chartered a Boeing 727 for international service in 1969, part of a tourism promotion policy. By the early 1990s, UBA, renamed Myanma Airways, flew aging aircraft that were so crash-prone that foreign governments advised their citizens not to use the airline.
   The State Law and Order Restoration Council's economic liberalization policies and the "Visit Myanmar Year" campaign in 1996-1997 led to the establishment of new airlines that were joint ventures with foreign companies: Myanmar Airways International, Air Mandalay, and Yangon Airways. The last two were designed to carry tourists to such popular domestic destinations as Mandalay, Inle (Inlay) Lake, and Pagan (Bagan), using French-built 66-seat ATR-72 turboprops. A number of regional airlines fly into Rangoon, including Thai International, Malaysia Airlines, Air China, Biman Bangladesh, and Silk Air (Singapore).
   In 2002, Burma had 80 airports, of which only eight had paved runways; only two airports had runways over 3,047 meters (10,055 feet) long. Thirty-four airports had runways under 914 meters (3,016 feet) long. Once one of Asia's most modern facilities, Mingaladon Airport is now obsolete, and its runway cannot take wide-bodied aircraft, such as Boeing 747s. In the late 1990s, the Japanese government gave "humanitarian aid" to modernize it, apparently fearing a crash by All Nippon Airways, which briefly offered a Kansai (Osaka)-Rangoon flight. A second airport serving Rangoon is planned near Pegu (Bago), though it apparently remains in the planning stage. Anew international airport at Mandalay was completed at a cost of US$3.15 billion in 2000. Its runway, at 4,242 meters (14,000 feet), is said to be the longest in Southeast Asia and is capable of accommodating wide-bodied aircraft.
   See also Air Force (Tatmadaw Lei); Rail Transport; Road Transport; Water Transport.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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