The Clouds Below

Bombardier jets are also comparatively quieter and fly at higher altitudes: while the ubiquitous ATRs fly at around 14,000 feet, the Bombardiers cruise at 22,000 feet.

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Published in the July 2015 edition of Myanmore

Trevor Jenson, Chief Executive Officer of FMI Air.
Trevor Jenson, Chief Executive Officer of FMI Air. Photo credit: Hong Sar

Despite the abundance of domestic airlines in Myanmar, there’s surprisingly little variation between them. Aircraft models, flight routes, fares and schedules are virtually indistinguishable, and the onboard service is often mediocre.

However one of the newest of the 10 airlines, FMI Air, is making a concerted effort to stand out from the pack.

“We’ve remodelled the whole experience of flying: we provide a business class service on all our flights,” said Trevor Jensen, the Chief Executive Officer of FMI Air.

The airline was launched as a charter flight service three years ago and began offering scheduled flights on May 4.

It boasts a fleet of three Canadian-made Bombardier jets, which seat 50 passengers and reach significantly higher speeds than the ATR turbo props used by other operators.

“Our jets are very comfortable, fast and modern. The CRJ100 has been used extensively throughout Europe and the United States as a city commuter jet and it’s a well established aircraft,” said Mr Jensen, whose career in aviation began in the 1960s as a captain at Australia’s Qantas.

FMI Air pilots
FMI Air pilots

The Bombardier jets are also comparatively quieter and fly at higher altitudes: while the ubiquitous ATRs fly at around 14,000 feet, the Bombardiers cruise at 22,000 feet.

“This means that it’s a more comfortable flight because the aircraft gets above low level turbulence,” Mr Jensen said.

“Quite frankly, at this time of year, you can’t out-climb all the turbulence, but it is definitely smoother on a Bombardier,” he added, referring to Myanmar’s powerful monsoon season.

The airline’s 12 pilots are expatriates, although a Myanmar national is in the process of being recruited, while the 22 cabin crew staff have undergone an extensive training programme and some having prior experience on top tier airlines such as Qatar Airways.

“In my whole career, I’ve never worked with a more professional and well trained group of people. Our cabin crew are absolutely fabulous,” Mr Jensen said with a grin.

FMI Air currently operates five flights a day between Yangon and the administrative capital of Nay Pyi Taw, where the airline is based.

“We offer businesspeople better frequency. If a person has a meeting in the afternoon, they don’t have to fly up in the morning and waste time waiting around in a coffee shop or the airport. And you have to bear in mind that communications in Myanmar aren’t all that good, so it’s not always possible to whittle away the time by working on emails.”

Time is money, after all.

A one way flight between Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw costs between US$120 and $180, which makes it pricier than its competitors.

However Mr Jensen maintains that FMI Air offers excellent value for money. A complimentary invitation to a business lounge is provided with every boarding pass, which means that passengers can avoid the dreary and noisy departure lounges in Yangon’s domestic terminal (not to mention negating the need for the airline colour-coded  stickers passengers don to ensure they are herded onto their respective flights).

FMI Air cabin crew
FMI Air cabin crew

FMI Air’s seats are of business class proportions and the onboard meals are provided by two five-star catering companies. The juice served is seasonal and freshly squeezed and meals are rotated frequently to avoid boring the palates of its passengers.

FMI will start operating flights to Mandalay on July 1, with Sittwe following suit in mid-July.

Plans are also in the pipeline to launch international flights, with the ambition of becoming “the region’s premier airline,” Mr Jensen told Myanmore.

To date, FMI Air is the only airline that allows flights to be booked online using credit cards and its operations control room is the most sophisticated in the country.

“We always know exactly where our planes are in the sky, which cannot be said of other local airlines,” said Jeremy Kingston, FMI Air’s manager of system operations control.

Mr Jensen told Myanmore that FMI Air is also “in total support” with the Ministry of Transport’s ambition to restore Myanmar as a regional aviation hub.

“Our main contribution is to raise standards across the board. In line with that, we invited other domestic airlines to take part in a seminar about the use of Maestro. Some companies don’t believe in sharing knowledge, but we do.”

For those uninitiated with aviation technology, Maestro is a web based application designed to enhance personnel and management systems and help airlines better achieve compliance with safety and operational standards, which in Myanmar have known to be sadly lacking.

However it seems that with FMI Air raising the bar, things are on the up in Myanmar’s aviation industry.

For more information, visit http://www.fmiair.com

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