Macau's Legislative Assembly has passed the territory's reforming Civil Aviation Bill that paves the way to liberalising access to Macau International Airport and reducing the dominance of Air Macau (NX, Macau International). Earlier this month, ch-aviation reported that the Legislative Council had drafted the bill and sent it to the Assembly for approval.

The Assembly waved the bill through on June 21, with 30 votes in favour and two abstaining. The bill will allow the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government to standardise licencing arrangements and permit new entrants to open bases at Macau International. Air Macau has enjoyed a 28-year reign as the only scheduled passenger carrier allowed to maintain a base at the airport. That right will cease at the end of this year. The new law effectively changes the territory's aviation regime from a franchise-style arrangement to a more conventional licencing arrangement. While the bill guarantees Air Macau will maintain its licence, the airline will lose its control over slot allocations at the airport to foreign competitors.

The new bill will require any new and existing entrants looking to open a base to incorporate a joint stock company in Macau, use the territory as their principal place of business, and prove financial and operational bona fides. The Director of the SAR's Secretariat for Transport and Public Works, Raimundo do Rosário, told the Macau Business outlet that the bill incorporates "several important articles" that "will be difficult to implement," adding that "it will be impossible to guarantee 100% that there won't be problems in the future."

The Director also said that given the airport's space constraints and overall demand for flights, he does not think there will be many airlines looking to open a base in Macau. Other Macau politicians this week said there were no targets regarding licence issuances and the liberalisation process would be gradual. Any new licences would have a 25-year validity.

The bill also gives the Civil Aviation Authority of Macau the ability to suspend or revoke licences, permits, and/or certificates, as well as taking necessary preventative measures. In addition, the new bill does not deal with rotary wing, charter, VIP, and air cargo operations.

Liberalising access to Macau International is expected to positively benefit the territory's economy, particularly the tourism sector. The new law is expected to result in more direct routes opening to the airport from a broader geographic area. According to ch-aviation PRO airports data, 28 carriers operate into Macau International, flying to 46 destinations in 12 countries, with mainland Chinese airports accounting for 24 of those airports.