From March 2020 Lao Airlines plans to operate direct flights from Vientiane and northern Laos’ Luang Prabang to Kumamoto prefecture in Kyushu, after getting the green light from the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau. The Lao capital, Vientiane, will serve passengers on Wednesdays and Saturdays, while flights between Luang Prabang, some 220 km north of Vientiane, and Kumamoto will be scheduled on Mondays and Fridays. A 142-seat Airbus A320 will be used in both sectors.
Lao Airlines is hopeful that the two new weekly frequencies will help push Laos as a convenient air travel hub to the rest of the Indochina Peninsula. In the Mekong region, Lao Airlines offers direct flights from Vientiane to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Kunming, Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap. Domestically, the carrier connects Laos’s capital to six cities including Luang Prabang and Pakse.
The city of Kumamoto was chosen as the destination because Lao Airlines was able to acquire takeoff and landing slots that were convenient to connect other airports in Japan. Originally, Lao Airlines had announced back to 2017 to launch flights to Tokyo Narita but the route never materialized.
The flights will be an added incentive for Japanese tourists to visit Laos and will also have the potential to spur trade and investment. While the number of Japanese visitors fluctuated in 2015, the figure was estimated at 43,800 people and rose to about 49,200 in 2016. In 2017, the number of Japanese visitors dropped to 32,000 but rose to almost 39,000 in 2018, according to the Tourism Development Department, Lao Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.