March 20, 2017 01:00 By VIENTIANE TIMES ASIA NEWS NETWORK VIENTIANE
A DELEGATION from Japan will meet with Lao government officials in Vientiane this week to negotiate improvements to the air service agreement signed by the two parties last year.
Lao Airlines has long-term plans to start a direct flight to Japan but this is unlikely to happen in the near future because the airline is still in the process of improving services, an official with the Civil Aviation Department, Viengxay Singkham, said recently.
In the meantime, Japanese authorities are studying the feasibility of a Laos-Japan route, he said.
The department official was unable to say when such a flight might become operational. At present, people in Laos wanting to travel to Japan for work or leisure have to transit through Bangkok or Hanoi, from where it takes about five hours to reach Japan.
This is in addition to the one hour or more that it takes to fly to Thailand and Vietnam.
The governments of Laos and Japan signed an air service agreement in January last year, which was regarded as a landmark in civil aviation cooperation between the two countries, the Civil Aviation Department said.
The agreement was seen as fundamental to civil aviation cooperation, particularly the opening of direct flights between the two countries to facilitate the air transport of people and goods and to promote tourism, trade and investment in Laos and Japan.
Japan is the 27th country to have signed an air service agreement with Laos.
The number of Japanese visitors to Laos currently stands at about 30,000 people a year, according to the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, while only about 4,000 Lao people travel to Japan each year.
In 2014, Japan began issuing multiple-entry visas valid for up to three years to Lao nationals in an effort to improve business links and tourism between the two countries.
In addition to Lao Airlines, other foreign airlines fly in and out of Laos, including AirAsia, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Vietnam Airlines, Jin Air and Silk Air.