Authorities in the former Portuguese enclave Macau have decided to cancel the exclusive rights to airport slots, which national carrier Air Macau had held since 1995. The move comes as the local government aims to woo more international visitors to the slew of casinos which dot Macau's skyline.
Travellers flying to and from Macau have been badly served for years thanks to the monopoly held by the home airline and its unambitious expansion largely focused on mainland China and North
Asia, a report in the South China Morning Post said that.
“Exclusivity tends to breed complacency in service and innovation, as well as risk-taking,” the paper quoted Leonardo Dioko, director of Macau’s Institute for Tourism Studies as saying.
End of exclusivity
Macau is currently connected to 57 airports, with more than two-thirds of these routes operated by one airline only. This has led to a lack of choice for consumers, leaving a huge gap for rival airlines in Southeast Asia to expand accordingly, the SCMP report said.
Air Macau operates 28 routes, with no competition on 20 of them. The carrier, launched in 1995, operates just 18 aircraft. By contrast, budget carrier HK Express, based in Hong Kong just a few kilometres away, has grown to a fleet of 24 planes in just five years.
The report quoted sources close to the policy changes as saying that the government had been inspired by the success of reforms to the gaming market, which in 2001 ended the four-decade control of “casino king” Stanley Ho Hung-sun, and have since seen the city develop into the world’s largest gambling centre by revenue.
“When the government opened up the gaming licenses, they did not expect this boom,” said an airline source heavily involved in government consultations on removing Air Macau’s rights.
New players are lining up
Several new players could seek to enter the sector. Among them are familiar names such as Shun Tak Holdings’ Pansy Ho Chiu-king (daughter of “King of Gambling” Stanley Ho, who just last week took control of her father's gambling empire) and Hong Kong carriers, as well as business aviation companies flying executives and wealthy people.
“Several players like Air Asia or Cebu Pacific may consider expanding their services from Macau, or new players like HK Express,” said Asian Business Aviation Association chairwoman Jenny Lau.
Air Asia, whose operations from Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines make it the second largest airline using Macau airport, declined to comment. Similarly, a spokeswoman for Pansy Ho did not respond to questions. Air Macau could not be contacted.
Cargo decline continues
In 2011, Macau government unveiled a master plan to expand the airport, but little progress has been made since. It calls for the reclamation of land between the terminal and runway, essentially doubling the size of the airport as well as the planes and passengers it can handle. Those numbers were estimated at 15 million passengers and 107,000 take-offs and landings annually by 2033.
In its heydays in early 2000, Macau Airport handled substantial amounts of cargo, but in the ensuing years these volumes have gradually declined.
According to the Department of Statistics and Census Service (DSEC), Macao International Airport handled 3,115 tonnes of air cargo in March 2017, up by 9.8% year-on-year. In the first quarter of 2017, air cargo increased by 7.9% year-on-year to 7,732 tonnes, of which outward cargo (4,783 tonnes) and transit cargo (1,623 tonnes) rose by 14.7% and 6.3% respectively, while inward cargo (1,326 tonnes) dropped by 9.8%.
Nol van Fenema