Thai AirAsia the first low-cost carrier to serve Luang Prabang in Laos

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Thai AirAsia the first LCC to serve Luang Prabang

Thai AirAsia cabin attendants show off the promotional fare for the low-cost carrier’s Bangkok (Don Mueang)-Luang Prabang route at the launch announcement Tuesday. (Photo by Thai AirAsia)

Laos has finally opened its restricted skies to Thai AirAsia (TAA), which has relentlessly pursued the issue for eight years.

The neighbouring state will from March 24 allow the no-frills carrier to operate regular flights from Bangkok to Luang Prabang, with Vientiane a second destination on the horizon.

Laos is the last frontier to be covered by TAA in a subregional league that also includes Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

“It’s been a long time coming, eight years since asking Laos for the rights to operate flights there,” chief executive Tassapon Bijleveld said yesterday while announcing the launch of the Luang Prabang service.

Asean’s Open Skies policy theoretically obligates member states to allow airlines of fellow members to operate flights to their countries without barriers, but Laos has largely been reluctant to do so.

The traffic rights come after the Lao government became less concerned about the effects of a low-cost carrier (LCC) on its state-owned Lao Airlines.

Kingphokeo Phommahaxay, a counsellor at the Lao embassy in Bangkok, attributed the delay to the time needed by his country’s authorities to understand the LCC model rather than being protective of its flag carrier.

“We want to see the entry of TAA [to Lao skies] result in a win-win situation,” the Lao diplomat told the Bangkok Post.

Amornthep Chawla, head of research at CIMB Thai Bank, said on Tuesday Laos’s agreement reflected the country’s growing open-mindedness in its aviation policy, driven by a need to boost tourism revenue.

“Laos is growing increasingly aware of tourism as a main contributor to its GDP growth,” he told the Bangkok Post.

Tourism accounts for 5-6% of Lao GDP or US$600-700 million a year, Mr Amornthep said.

Mr Tassapon said his airline expected to start daily service to the Lao capital in the second quarter, but Mr Kingphokeo cautioned that remained subject to negotiations with his country’s authorities.

But TAA will be the first LCC to fly to the old royal capital of Luang Prabang, which is already served by three full-service airlines from Bangkok — Thai Airways International, Bangkok Airways and Lao Airlines. Promotional one-way fares starting at 990 baht are being offered until Sunday.

It costs nearly 9,000 baht for a round-trip flight on Bangkok-Luang Prabhang by Bangkok Airways for March travel.