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Laos Re-Launches National Airline in Effort to Boost Tourism - 2003-07-17

The national airline of Laos, safety plagued and broke, has been re-launched with international help in the hopes boosting tourism. The first move has been to replace the all-turbo prop plane fleet.

Traditional music and dancers were part of the ceremonies held at the recently built international airport to inaugurate the communist nation's revamped airline.

A new plane and new ideas were showed cased with Lao and Vietnamese officials in attendance.

The fleet will now include the 140-seater Airbus A-320, replacing the era of the all-turbo-prop aircraft. The move is to change a reputation for poor safety and practices. Four aircraft have crashed in remote areas of mountainous Laos in the past decade.

Lao Airlines president, Somphone Douangdara, speaking through a translator, says the addition to the national fleet marks a new phase in the airline's history. "We are in fact embarking on our most ambitious development program since we began operations in 1976, which we aim to take our place as one of the principal carriers of the Mekong sub-region," he said. Aircraft service will expand with new destinations to Singapore and Hong Kong on the planning boards.

The airline is getting assistance from the World Bank, Air France, Airbus, Vietnam Airlines and a Singapore-based aircraft leasing company. Air France consultants drew up a seven-year business plan aimed at doubling passenger traffic in the first year of operations to 400,000 and then for average annual growth of seven to eight percent. Vietnam Airlines has agreed to provide pilots and maintenance crews for a year, while Lao pilots undergo training in France. Mr. Somphone says he sees more such cooperation among the less developed countries of Southeast Asia, including Cambodia and Burma.

"So these four countries are setting up the team to help each other and exchange their opinion or exchange the knowledge to improve the services of the airline business to meet the standards of the rest of the ASEAN countries," he explained. Such cooperation will be needed to ensure each national carrier's chances of survival within the tough regional market of the airline and tourism industry.