Despite being recently included on UNESCO World Heritage List, Bagan will still have to wait to be connected internationally to other countries within ASEAN. Myanmar authorities seem to drag down their feet to upgrade the airport to international standards…
The project of turning Nyaung-U (Bagan) airport into an international gateway has been on the table for at least five years with funding provided by Japan. But nothing seemed to have materialized so far. The airport lacks all the facilities required for an international operation, from immigration, customs and quarantine facilities to refuelling facilities for airlines. It seems that Myanmar authorities are keener to protect their domestic carriers as passengers wishing to land in Bagan need to first fly to Yangon and then transfer or fly to Mandalay and then continue their trip by land transportation.
Bagan nomination to UNESCO World Heritage List will force authorities to act to allow more visitors to visit the famed archaeological site, one of the most amazing heritage sites in Southeast Asia. After Bagan’s recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site, a direct flight to Nyaung-U airport was proposed by Bangkok Airways from Bangkok but swiftly rejected by the Department of Civil Aviation,
Despite the fact that Bangkok Airways wanted to put the small ATR72 on the route- the aircraft is ideal to serve the route as it requests a short runway of less than 2,500 m, the Department of Civil Aviation justified its decision by the fact that “Nyaung-U is a domestic airport and we cannot allow them to run direct flight between Bangkok and Bagan at the present.”
The civil aviation department however indicated that some renovation work would be carried out at the airport to increase its capacity as well as for the upgrading of toilets for passengers.
Nyaung-U airport is probably not able to handle international flights as the airport is deemed to close from the archaeological protected zone. However, the Ministry of Transport and Communication intends now to upgrade Pakokku airport in Magwe Region first, according to the department. Pakokku is an hour drive northeast of Bagan at a distance of 50 km from the archaeological site. Pakokku airport has enough land space to support a larger development. The airport could be upgraded with Chinese money as it would be under China’s “Belt and Road initiative”.
In the first half of 2019, more than 210,000 tourists visited Bagan, or around 90,000 more than in the same period last year, according to the Hotel and Tourism Directorate in Bagan, and tourism companies hope that number would increase. Authorities believe that Bagan will receive until year-end some 400,000 international visitors.