BANGKOK, Thailand (eTN) – It is ASEAN’s smallest national carrier: tiny Lao Airlines is like a mirror of its country of origin, Lao PDR. The carrier is small, with a fleet of regional aircraft (ATR 72 and MA60, with respectively 70 and 56 seats).
These aircraft operate flights to 15 destinations, including 8 domestic cities. The dormant Lao Airlines, with its limited resources, explained why Lao has so far not been very keen to embrace ASEAN’s open skies policy. AirAsia is so far the only low-cost carrier flying into Laos. And they got traffic rights exclusively from Kuala Lumpur to Vientiane.
But changes might be in the air as Lao Airlines suddenly seems to have new ambitions to turn into a bigger player in the region. The airline just took delivery from its first Airbus A320. This is the first jet aircraft ordered by Lao Airlines. The aircraft arrived in Vientiane last week with a second one due to be delivered in December.
Lao Airlines’ new Airbus A320 will help the carrier to better face competition in Southeast Asia by offering higher standards of service. Lao Airlines will introduce a business class (16 seats). The jet will serve the busy Bangkok-Vientiane route, already served by Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways International.
It will also be put into service to Singapore. It will be the first non-stop destination between Laos and Singapore with three weekly flights to and from Vientiane. The A320 will also be introduced on a regular basis to Hanoi, Kunming, and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as Pakse in Southern Laos. The aircraft was originally planned to fly also a new route from Vientiane to Guangzhou, but it seems that the opening of the route has been pushed back to the springtime of 2012.
The introduction of two Airbus A320 would, for most airlines, be an unnoticed event. However, it is a very important step for Lao Airlines, with its fleet of 10 turbo propellers. The two jet aircraft will help the carrier to grow its market share and expand total seats capacity from and to Laos by 50 percent. For Lao Airlines alone, seat capacity will almost doubled compared to the summer of 2011.