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UN to help Burma improve aviation technology

(PHOTO: REUTERS)

The UN’s aviation agency has agreed to help modernise Burma’s airline industry by providing technical assistance to the government, state media reported on Tuesday.

The deal was reached at a meeting between President Thein Sein met and the Secretary-General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Raymond Benjamin, in Naypyidaw on Monday.

Discussions focused on Burma’s need for economic assistance and modern technology, along with airline security, infrastructure and equipment.

Burma’s aviation industry has boomed since the inauguration of the new government in 2011, with foreign companies lining up to invest in the country’s largely untapped markets.

In August, Japan’s All Nippon Airways announced plans to buy a US$25 million stake in Burma’s Asian Wings Airways, becoming the first foreign carrier to invest in a domestic airline.

Burma has also encouraged Thailand’s Nok Air to expand its airline routes across the country to include all its main cities. It follows a government decision to build a new, modern airport that will be able to handle 12 million passengers in Hantharwaddy, northeast of Rangoon.

But a string of accidents has raised concerns about safety and security in the overloaded industry, which still relies heavily on aircraft models that are no longer manufactured. The country has an appalling safety record and experts say it will not improve anytime soon.

In December 2012, an Air Bagan flight carrying dozens of passengers, including foreign tourists, crash landed in eastern Shan state, claiming two lives and injuring eleven others.

Analysts are concerned that Burma, which is emerging from decades of military rule and crippling economic sanctions, is moving to quickly.

“They’ve opened up, in my personal opinion, far before they’re ready for it,” Shukor Yusof, a Singapore-based aviation expert told Reuters. “The infrastructure is not there to cope with demand. There’s going to be a point where it’s going to get choked up.”

Burma has been a member of ICAO since it gained independence in 1948. The UN body works to improve the safety, efficiency and regularity of the international civil aviation industry.