New Laos airline preparing for takeoff

Laos's first privately-owned airline said Thursday it plans to enter the region's booming aviation market later this year.

Phongsavanh Airlines is aiming for a September takeoff with an initial service to Bangkok, said the carrier's spokesman Viphasouk Saysanavongphet.

"But if not we will definitely begin our service before the end of this year," he told AFP.

Flying from the northern Lao city of Vientiane, the airline is also lining up routes to Hanoi and Siem Reap, he said, putting it in direct competition with flag carrier Lao Airlines.

"We are aiming at serving the ASEAN region to begin with," Viphasouk said, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Phongsavanh is positioning itself as a "premium low-cost airline", offering business and economy classes, he added.

The airline, with initial registered capital of $9 million, is part of Lao-owned Phongsavanh Group, whose other interests include timber, construction, petroleum and banking.

It says it will start its service with three Boeing 737-400s purchased second-hand, each with a capacity of about 150 passengers.

"But with the competitive market that we have right now, we will be happy with 80-100 passengers per flight to begin with," Viphasouk said.

Asia-Pacific airlines recorded solid growth in 2010 with a strong rebound in passenger numbers, and the region's low-cost segment is particularly booming, industry players say.

Communist Laos remains one of Asia's poorest nations but officially grew at 7.9 percent between 2006 and 2010, largely on the exploitation of natural resources.

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