A brief guide to the domestic airlines in Myanmar (Burma) and comparison of Air Bagan, Asian Wings Airways, Air KBZ, Air Mandalay, Myanma Airways, Yangon Airways and Golden Myanmar Airways.
Many ask “What is the best airline in Myanmar?” or “What is the safest airline in Myanmar?” As the country emerges as a tourist hotspot, these concerns are very relevant. Navigating the flights of domestic airlines may be more challenging than expected.
This guide will provide an introduction and how to on traveling by air in Myanmar.
Myanmar has several small domestic airlines that fly similar routes (and usually during similar times). For the most part, they are very comparable in cost, equipment, quality, service, food, and scheduling. I personally flew three of them and will note my experience.
Air Bagan– The “Treasure of Myanmar” airline was founded in 2004 and has a small fleet of 5 aircrafts, one Fokker-100 , two ATR-72 and two ATR-42 turbo-props. They fly to about 20 destinations including a few international ones.
They had two accidents so far. In 2008 an ATR 72 overran the runway injuring two people and in December of 2012, a Fokker 100 crash landed near Heho killing two and injuring 11.
Expectations are low for most domestic airlines so their slogan “Flying Beyond Expectation” may actually be accurate. KBZ stands for Kanbawza Bank, which is the private bank that owns the chain (imagine flying Air BOA?). This is one of the newer airlines started in 2011. They currently fly to 15 domestic destinations with their tiny fleet of three ATR 72-500.
In 2012 one of their planes overran the runway, but there were no injuries.
Asian Wings Airways
Another of the newer airlines, their motto is to “Fly Beyond your dreams”. They fly to 22 domestic destinations with their fleet of three ATR 72-500s and an Airbus A321-100. They have no incidents.
An investment from Air Nippon in 2013 should strengthen the brand. They also have a rewards club, but tourists won’t get much use out of it until they merge with another program.
We flew Asian Wings from Heho to Mandalay and then to Yangon on a ATR 72-500. The meal was comparably good and was even served on a tray!
This airline went the direct route when choosing their motto “Safety, Reliability & Comfort”. This is the first domestic airline of Myanmar founded in 1994. Their fleet currently comprised of two ATR-72-212s and one ATR 42-320 flies to 11 destinations. No incidents to date.
We flew on their flight from Yangon to Bagan via Heho and Mandalay. Not much to comment on except that the layovers were surprisingly efficient. Food was very basic.
This airline does not have a motto and why would they need one when they are the official state owned airline? Founded in 1948, Myanma was previously known as Burma Airways. They are comparatively large with a mixed fleet twelve planes comprised of seven types of aircrafts (mostly ATR models).
Their safety record is blemished by poor performance under the Burma brand, but also with several incidents under the Myanma name. Most recently, in May and June of 2013, two Xian planes had incidents on the landing, but no fatalities. In 2009 a Fokker plane overran the runway. In 1998, two Fokkers crashed with many deaths.
Myanmar Airways International (MAI) is the related state owned company flying international routes.
Yangon Airways This airline founded in 1996 states “You’re safe with us”… That phrase is not very comforting to see painted on the side of a plane. With a small fleet of three ATR 212s they fly to 11 destinations.
Also interesting to note that this airline is on the US Department of Treasury’s SDN list meaning Americans are not suppose to do business with this airline. Apparently this is due to the company being acquired by Ho Chun Ting, a known drug trafficker. I wonder if he uses his own planes?
We flew with Yangon from Mandalay to Heho on an ATR 212. This was a short direct flight with not much out of the ordinary besides a delay before take off. They offered a small croissant snack.
Golden Myanmar Airlines
Recently founded in 2012, this is the budget airline of Myanmar stating “every day we do is for your satisfaction,” whatever that means. They fly internationally with two Airbus A320s as well as between Mandalay and Yangon, with more domestic routes planned.
Routes and Schedules
Most Myanmar tourist destinations are accessible by plane. One thing to pay attention to when booking is how many layovers each route has as this can add a significant amount of time to the travel.
Most (if not all) of the airlines operate as commuter planes and circle around the main tourist destinations Yangon, Heho, Mandalay, and Bagan. Some may skip a city or fly a different direction, so make sure you know the route and not just the destination.
The layovers are quite efficient with wheels up around 20 minutes after landing.
As the domestic airlines are quite small, most routes are only available once a day or less. From Yangon, they usually leave in the morning and come back in the afternoon.
Expect and plan for some delays during your travel. You may notice many flights are scheduled to depart at the same time which is especially questionable at small airports with one runway.
Most airlines don’t yet offer online booking, so you have to book locally. Electronic ticketing isn’t really used, so you also have to plan on getting an airline issued ticket. There are several ways to book the flights locally.
Hotel – Possibly the easiest and most convenient option, you can explain your travel plans with your hotel concierge who can then research and review the options. They can also purchase on your behalf for a small commission.
Travel Agent – Another option is to contact a travel agent, but I would only consider this if your hotel is unable to help.
Plan and Purchase – You can do the research yourself by reviewing the schedules online then confirming with the airline office with a phone call. You will need to go to the office or have it sent to you to make payment and purchase the ticket.
Tip: If you know your travel plan, you can purchase your tickets at the airport when you arrive in Myanmar. You may need to go to the domestic terminal if arriving in the international terminal. This will allow you to review many different options and purchase immediately once you make the decision.
Tickets are also quoted and paid for in USD. I tried paying in Myanmar Kyat but had to exchange the currency BACK to USD to purchase the ticket.
When to Book
Usually a day in advance is enough time to book a flight. Even if one airline is sold out which is unlikely, there are other carriers running the major routes. If it is a holiday or festival, book a few days in advance.
Have any flying experiences to share or other tips for traveling by plane in Myanmar? Leave a comment below!