Mongolian carrier Hunnu Air announced its plans to offer a limited schedule of flights between Ulaan Bataar and the French capital, Paris, between June and August this year in order to gain first mover status in this market, a senior executive at the carrier revealed to The HUB Daily on the sidelines of this year’s Routes Asia forum in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia last week.
Margad Byambajav, vice president and chief commercial officer, Hunnu Air confirmed that with a new entrant to the Mongolian market expressing an intent to introduce flights to Paris, Hunnu Air pushed ahead with plans to serve the French capital even though the first of its Airbus A330-200 widebodies will not arrive until early 2015 and it will initially have to serve the route using an A319 with a technical stop in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg.
Byambajav said that the carrier has held lengthy discussions with Airbus and hopes to be able to secure some brand new A330-200s, although its initial widebody operations will likely be served by a second-hand airliner which will be sourced by the European manufacturer for delivery in the first quarter of 2015.
The Paris link will be the first long-haul service for the company, formerly known as Mongolian Airlines, but there are plans to expand activities across Asia next year to support the A330-200s operations to Europe. The widebody will be used on Hunnu Air’s existing link to Bangkok in Thailand and to perhaps open new destinations in South East Asia, including Singapore.
Hunnu Air launched operations in February 2012 and until now has mainly focused on serving the domestic Mongolian market. It currently offers internal flights to Altai, Bayankhongor, Choibalsan, Dalanzadgad, Donoi, Hailar, Hovd and Murun using three Fokker 50s. It had a 42.7 per cent share of the seat capacity in the domestic market last year, up from 28.9 per cent on 2012, overtaking Eznis Airways as the country’s largest domestic carrier.
According to Byambajav the airline is currently considering a long-term replacement for the Dutch-built turboprops that serve the domestic market. “We are looking at the option of replacing the Fokker 50s as the aircraft are now getting quite old. The ATR 72 and ATR 42 versions and the Bombardier Q400s are under consideration,” he said.
International operations commenced in June 2012 with the launch of flights between Ulaan Bataar and Hong Kong and subsequently scheduled operations have been introduced to Bangkok (from June 2013) and Shanghai (from February 2013 , although this route was closed in October 2013). Hunnu Air also offers seasonal charter flights to several Japanese cities and destinations in Russia and this year added a link to Manzhouli, in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China. The international routes are all served by two Airbus A319s configured in a two-class arrangement with 12 Business Class and 108 Economy seats.
Hunnu Air will offer a twice weekly service (every Monday and Friday) between Ulaan Bataar and Paris between June 9, 2014 and August 29, 2014 an eleven-hour service. This will be the sole non-stop service between Ulaan Bataar and France and only the third European market to be served directly from Mongolia after Russia and Germany, which have been linked to Ulaan Bataar by the flights of MIAT - Mongolian Airlines from Moscow, Berlin and Frankfurt.
According to MIDT data, an estimated 134,000 bi-directional O&D passengers flew between Europe and Mongolia in 2013: approximately 14,000 of these passengers (10.8 per cent) flew from or to destinations in France. “The number of tourist between Paris and Mongolia is increasing,” said Byambajav, highlighting a good mix of inbound and outbound demand on the route. “Paris is everyone’s dream in Mongolia as a destination to visit,” he added.
The overall European demand is dominated by the German and Russian markets (which are both served by MIAT), although alongside France there is also a notable demand from the UK, which could potentially be a future destination for Hunnu Air. “The UK is a potential market,” confirmed Byambajav, “but in Europe Mongolia is still relatively unknown.”
According to Byambajav a major obstacle to the development of the carrier is the seasonality of demand into Mongolia and it seeking therefore to develop a hub-and-spoke model providing connections between markets in Siberia and the CIS states to destinations across China.
You can watch our exclusive video interview with Margad Byambajav at Routes Asia, below: