Distinguished aviation veteran Mr Bounma Chanthavongsa has been officially appointed as the new president of Lao Airlines. Champa Meuanglao caught up with him at his office to ask a few questions about his plans for the future of the airline.
Tell us a bit about your background prior to becoming the president of Lao Airlines?
I’ve been involved with the aviation industry since I completed military training with the Lao Air Force in 1972. I was sent to the Soviet Union for further study in aircraft mechanics, where I was tasked with repair of Mig-21 fighter jets. I completed my studies there in 1976, and returned to the Lao Air Force for a number of years. Then, in 2001, I was given the responsibility of managing a very small company that had nearly gone bankrupt, called Air Lao. I was assigned the task of turning the business around, developing it until it became Lao Skyways as it is known today.
So you have been involved in the aviation industry for a long time?
Yes, I’ve spent my entire adult life working in aviation. A good 40 years.
Is it true that the Prime Minister himself appointed you as president of Lao Airlines?
Yes, that’s true. The Prime Minister issued a decision on a Friday, and I signed on the dotted line the next Monday! Of course I wasn’t completely prepared initially, however as I mentioned in the press conference after my appointment, as the national carrier, we will continue our mission to grow and expand, to serve both domestic and foreign passengers, and to remain competitive among other international airlines. That’s still our goal.
You’ve now been tasked with revitalizing Lao Airlines. In which direction to you hope to take the airline?
My appointment as president (of Lao Airlines) was quite sudden, although they’d been talking to me about it for over a year. I haven’t made firm plans yet as to how to turn the airline around, and it will take time to make the right decisions. This is a big responsibility and Lao Airlines is a big airline. It’s the national carrier.
What are your plans for implementing this strategy?
The mission right now is to study the problems faced by the airline, which are numerous. One major problem is a financial issue, and to resolve this problem, we need to cut costs and increase revenue. As part of studying cost-cutting, I’ll need to review the efficiency of personnel, internal organization, and expense management systems. We must improve our services and ensure that Lao Airlines, the national carrier, remains in the hearts of our passengers. That’s our responsibility.
What do you think is the biggest strength of Lao Airlines?
I believe that Lao Airlines has great potential. We are unique, we are friendly and welcoming, and we can rely on the great potential of Lao people. I would like to ask society to help by giving us their suggestions, and we’ll take those ideas on board and improve our airline.
Which is your favorite Lao Airlines destination?
My favorite will always be Xieng Khouang (laughs) because that’s where I’m from. Xieng Khouang is a province with a lot of tourism potential. In my opinion, there’s more to see in Xieng Khouang than in Luang Prabang! It’s just that some of these tourism sites haven’t been promoted well. The climate is cool, there’s a lot of natural beauty, and there are unique ethnic minority cultures in Xieng Khouang. It is also a place rich in history, and with its own special cuisine.
Which countries would you like to see Lao Airlines flying to in the future?
We hope to see a flight to Japan in the near future, probably starting with a Vientiane-Fukuoka route, and then if possible Vientiane-Narita, as both governments have already agreed to the idea. I think that Lao Airlines should definitely include direct flights between Laos and Japan. We also hope to increase regional flights to places such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, and of course we’ll expand our routes within China.
Since you came from a career in Lao Skyways, do you think there is room for cooperation between the two airlines?
That’s a very good question! Both airlines are state enterprises, meaning they are both operated by government. Lao Skyways has a separate strategy, and I think the two airlines could cooperate well. I actually plan to hold a meeting between the two airlines to open discussions on this very topic.