Airlines Deny Rumor of Links to Ousted Ruling Party Chief

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 17 August 2015

RANGOON — Two major domestic airlines have denied rumors of service disruption linked to recent upheaval in Burma’s ruling party.

Representatives of both Air Bagan and Asian Wings told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the rumors, which made the rounds on social media over the weekend, were completely baseless.

Air Bagan has temporarily suspended service to domestic and international destinations, according to the company’s managing director Htoo Thet Htwe, due to “regular maintenance” and would resume in October.

The unannounced interruption, which customers began to notice over the weekend, triggered speculation that the disruption was linked with the ouster of parliament Speaker Shwe Mann from the leadership of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in a late night purge last Thursday.

Online commentators posited that Air Bagan, which is owned by Burmese tycoon Tay Za, had business links to the former party chairman. The airline has a code share agreement with Asian Wings, making it the sole operating carrier during the hiatus.

This connection appears to have led the public to assume that the company was also impacted by the demotion of Shwe Mann, who may or may not be linked to Tay Za.

“I don’t have any comments about why this rumor spread, but what I can say is that we’re still operating as usual,” Asian Wings’ executive director Lwin Moe said, adding that the airlines’ are completely distinct entities.

“I’ve received many calls from outside asking if our airline has stopped, and I can say it is not true.”

Air bagan was established in 2010, operating more than a dozen domestic routes and one international flight serving Chiang Mai, Thailand. The airline earned a share of notoriety after two people died during an emergency landing in Shan State’s Heheo in 2012. The ATR-72 aircraft is still being examined, and the incident prompted new annual strength and safety checks for the fleet.

Asian Wings was established in 2011 by Sunfar Travels founder Than Oo, who owns a 40 percent share in the company. The airline currently operates seven domestic routes.