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How a Three Hour Flight Changed Myanmar

By Jaiden Coonan

Two hours and fifty-four minutes. That’s how long it took a plane to fly from Yangon, Myanmar to Singapore in August 2015. A short flight by some standards, it was barely long enough to watch a movie or read a magazine. Although it may not seem like much, this flight was a historic moment for Myanmar.

It was the first international flight for state-owned Myanmar National Airlines (MNA) in more than 20 years, the previous one occurring in 1993. To put things in perspective, that’s when Jurassic Park came out—the first one. But no movies were enjoyed on this flight, since DVDs didn’t even exist yet.

But in line with its general efforts to modernize, Myanmar has proudly opened its doors to the world once again, welcoming curious visitors from every corner of the globe.

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With its rich history filled with ancient temples, strong cultural heritage and abundance of natural beauty, it’s no wonder the number of tourists landing in Myanmar grows every day. According to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, the country received more than 1 million visitors for the first time in 2012. By 2020, that number could increase seven-fold.

But it’s not only about getting tourists into the country, it’s also about creating a gateway out. Providing the Myanmar people with the ability to easily travel to other countries is an important goal for MNA.

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“We have to change our mindset to an international standard and to focus on customer service. As Myanmar’s national carrier, our priority is to support the people of Myanmar,” says Captain Than Tun, CEO of MNA. “Offering international flights is an important part of that responsibility.”

Fostering the flow of people both in and out of Myanmar is vital in sustaining the country’s rapid economic growth. With the aviation sector’s increase in demand, MNA is looking for ways to advance its technology and services.

The national airline already services 27 domestic airports, making it the largest network provider in the country, but before adopting of its international destinations it turned to GE for help.

In 2014, key MNA leaders including Capt. Than Tun attended the Myanmar Executive Leadership Program, an intensive program designed specifically for leaders in the country’s public and private sectors. The course was held at Crotonville, GE’s Global Learning Center in New York, and focused on developing leadership skills integral to advancing business and helping ensure the airline operates at best-of-class standards.

“Over the last three years, we have accessed training supplied by GE which has proved very helpful for our team. We look forward to continuing this collaboration, especially given GE has been in the aviation industry for over 100 years,” continued Capt. Than Tun.

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In addition to providing training for the MNA crew, GE is also servicing some of their aircraft. In June 2015, MNA signed an exclusive maintenance, repair and overhaul agreement for 12 engines which will power their new fleet of Boeing 737-800 Next-Gen aircraft. The aircraft are also being financed by GE Capital Aviation Services, the commercial aircraft financing and leasing arm of GE.

GE Myanmar Chief Country Representative Andrew Lee said, “I am very proud to say that MNA is listening to us and we’re listening to them. So it is a great equal partnership to develop a win-win situation and solution to help develop the country.”

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