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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Viva Macau
For most people in the United States, the country of Macau is not very well known. Macau is a very small country, attached to China, and governed similarly to Hong Kong. In the last decade it has become the largest gambling center in the world and as such the economy of the small 12 square mile nation is heavily dependant on gamblers. Before 1995 the only way to reach Macau was by ferry from Hong Kong or by helicopter. The Macanese government started plans for an international airport in 1987, which opened towards the end of 1995. The government also gathered a group of investors to create Air Macau as a national airline. The government promised the airline a 25 year monopoly as the only airline in Macau. However this monopoly changed in 2006.
In 2006 a second airline took the skies above Macau, Viva Macau. The new carrier was a low cost, long haul carrier compared to the full service, short-haul Air Macau. Although a separate company from Air Macau, with different owners, Viva Macau was stuck under Air Macau’s thumb. Because of the Macanese government’s deal with Air Macau for a 25 year monopoly on flights from Macau, a deal was worked out between the two parties to allow Viva Macau to fly to destinations only approved by Air Macau.
With this concession Viva Macau took to the skies operating Boeing 767s to destinations in Southeast Asia. In their first year the airline was named “New Airline of the Year” by Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, for their help in growing the Macanese tourism industry. The airline served destinations in Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia, South Korea and even as far as the Maldives. Charter flights were operated to Japan with the goal of future scheduled service to the country. Destinations were started and stopped based on consumer demand.
The 2008 Global Financial Crisis hit the airline hard and forced the government to give the airline a 200 million Macanese Pataca bailout. Despite financial troubles, the airline was named in the “Top 10 Budget Airlines” by readers of SmartTravelAsia.com in September 2009. Also at this time the airline was granted ETOPS status by the Macanese Aviation Authority. With this they became the first airline in Macau to be ETOPS certified.
However six months after this status was approved, the airline was dealt a major blow. The government of Macau forced Air Macau to remove their ability to operate routes they approve. This was due to allegations the airline failed to assist with passengers whose flights were delayed or cancelled. Shortly after this the government revoked Viva Macau’s Air Operators Certificate, citing Viva Macau’s inability to have Air Macau’s approval for routes. This effectively caused Viva Macau to cease operations at the end of March 2010.
After the controversy surrounding the end of Viva Macau, the airline filed an appeal with the Macanese courts. Initially this was rejected however, it was allowed after another appeal. However the airline failed their appeal for reinstatement, despite most onlookers feeling there was government interference. The demise of Viva Macau has hurt the Macanese aviation industry. In 2011 the government was forced to give a subsidy to the national airline. After that they were forced to bailout to the Macau International Airport due to a lack of airlines. The demise of Viva Macau has set back the once growing Macanese aviation industry.
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