Asia Economy

Myanmar: A Christmas Crash and the Tourism Effect

Patrick Winn
The Air Bagan passenger plane after it crashed near Heho airport in Myanmar's eastern Shan state on December 25, 2012.
STR | AFP | Getty Images

Want to travel across Myanmar, the poor, isolated nation that's becoming a tourism hot spot practically overnight? You're probably going to end up boarding an aging airplane regulated by a government with dubious credibility.

The Christmas day crash landing of a plane in Myanmar's eastern Shan State - home of idyllic holiday destination Inle Lake - could potentially tame the nation's tourism boom. As the Associated Press reports, two of the passengers were killed and American, French and Taiwanese travelers were hurt.

As with many aircraft in the nation's commercial fleet, the plane that crashed was quite old. According to the Aviation Safety Report database, the now-destroyed Bagan Air plane, a Fokker 100, first flew in 1991 and spent years operating under a British carrier. Just four years ago, another Bagan Air commercial flight suffered an aborted takeoff that broke its fuselage in two. (That said, I've flown Air Bagan twice and the service was quite pleasant.)

(Slideshow: Myanmar — Now Open For Business)

But Air Bagan isn't the only airline with a dubious record. Myanmar Airways, another major domestic carrier, is so worrisome that the United Kingdom urges its staff to avoid the airline altogether.

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Compounding the problem is that, in Myanmar, air travel is often the only way to go. Your other options are creaky British colonial-era trains that can take 20 hours to traverse the distance a plane can cover in one hour.

Or buses bumping along potted roads through countryside where modern hospitals have yet to arrive. Depending on the destination, these overland routes sometimes pass through conflict regions where foreigners are often forbidden to travel.

This is unlikely to scare off the small set of adventure-seeking tourists who've been zipping in and out of Myanmar for quite some time. But I suspect the Dec. 25 crash will give pause to more cautious travelers seeking a whimsical holiday in Myanmar.