Timor Leste capital will again be connected to Singapore as Bhutan national carrier Druk Air will operate a joint venture flight with Air Timor.
Why does Timor-Leste tourism not prosper in similar ways as its neighbours in Southeast Asia? There are many factors behind this, from a lack of promotional funds for tourism, the country’s exclusion from ASEAN-despite its repeated attempts to join the association-and above all, the lack of air connections.
Since achieving independence from Indonesia in 2002, Timor Leste lost most of its air connections. As a regional capital city, Dili used to be connected to a handful of destinations in the past such as Makassar, Surabaya, Bali, Kupang and eventually Jakarta. Following the independence, Dili was left with airports and no national carrier. Attempts to build up a proper national airline have been difficult. Air Timor-under the name of Austasia Airlines-launched its first scheduled charter flight to Singapore in August 2008 with a leased Airbus A319 from Singapore-based carrier Silk Air. It also sporadically flew to Denpasar in Bali. However, Air Timor S.A. has been forced to halt its flights to both and just managed to resume today a twice weekly flight to Kupang in West Timor (Indonesia). The route is served with an ATR72 leased from Transnusa, which is involved in a joint-venture operation.
Air Timor suspended its flights to Bali in 2017 due to the arrival of two Indonesian carriers, which turned the once profitable route into a loss for Timor national carrier.
The Singapore-Dili operation was the most important link for the airline as it connected to the rest of the world. However, Singapore Airlines decided not to renew the charter contract for the Dili-Singapore link operated with an aircraft from Silk Air. Consequently, on March 30, 2019, Air Timor made its last flight from Dili to Singapore (SIN). This means that Air Timor has no flights.
Last June, Air Timor resume its Dili to Kupang flights and just announced to finally come back to Singapore. The new partner is Druk Air, the national carrier of Bhutan, According to OAG schedules, the carrier will start flying from January 2, 2020, in a JV with Air Timor, two weekly frequencies will be offered on an Airbus A319 between Dili and Singapore.
Currently only five other airlines fly to Dili: Australian carrier Airnorth connects Dili to Darwin while Citilink, Sriwijaya and Nam Air-all low cost subsidiaries of Garuda Indonesia, have daily services to Bali. The fifth carrier is Transnusa.
New developments could come soon. In May, China based Air Travel-a tour operator-and Air Timor on Friday signed an agreement that will enable direct flights between Dili and Hong Kong. Air Travel would lease an Airbus A319 and start offering weekly services to Hong Kong. Since then, nothing has been heard either from Air Timor, nor from Air Travel about a possible time frame.