Passengers hoping to fly to or out of Attapeu’s brand new international airport are in for a long wait as there are no firm plans to offer domestic flights.
Vientiane Times quoted Lao Airlines’ senior official, Phuttasone Vannasack, saying the airline had conducted a year-long survey of people who might want to fly between Vientiane and Attapeu, but very few responded positively so no flights are currently planned.
No surprises in the airline’s assessment, although critics may point out that the airline has always been slow to open new routes due to insufficient funding.
It also casts some doubt on the wisdom of building an airport if there is no real demand for airline services.
Earlier, news reports suggested Lao Airlines would consider operating two flights weekly between Vientiane and Attapeu. The two flights would make a stop at Pakxe International Airport in Champassak province on the return leg to make the route more viable. Attapeu and Champassak airports are about 200 km apart.
While commercial activities are growing in Attapeu province due to its shared border with Vietnam, there are few tourist attractions so there is little demand for flights to the southernmost province. Most traders go to the border with Vietnam, which is considerably closer than shipping goods to Vientiane.
Lao Airlines said it would fly to the airport once there was evidence the route could generate enough revenue.
The country other domestic airline, Lao Skyway, according to Vientiane Times, has shown no interest in flying the route.
Some planes belonging to Vietnam’s Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group occasionally use the airport for charter flights.
The new Attapeu International Airport opened 30 May following two years of construction.
The airport is located in Xaysettha district, about 26 km from Attapeu provincial town. The runway is 1,850 metres long and 30 metres wide and can accommodate 70 to 100-seat aircraft such as ATR-72 and Fokker aircraft. The two aircraft have very little freight capacity.
The airport has a 4,300 sqm terminal, capable of serving 300 passengers per day.
Of the four southern provinces of Champassak, Saravan, Xekong and Attapeu, only Champassak and Attapeu have an international airport.