Country Profile

The Country


Laos is a landlocked nation occupying a central strip of the Indochinese Peninsula in Southeast Asia. The country is surrounded by Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, Thailand to the west, Myanamar (Burma) to the northwest and China to the north.

Laos is a mountainous country, widely covered by largely untouched tropical rain forrest. Less than 5% of the land is suitable for subsistence agriculture, even though agriculture provides around 80% of employment. Consequently Laos is the poorest country in Indo-China. In the southwest the Mekong river defines the border with Thailand, and along it’s banks is the main area of low-lying land in the country. In the north is a deeply pitted plateau which rises to more than 2000 m (6,560 ft) above sea level. Located within this region is the Plain of Jars, which has been at the centre of much armed conflict. The south eastern border with Vietnam is formed by the Annam mountains, which rise to 2500 m (8202 ft).

The colonial French authorities introduced a basic network of roads, but there is not a single railway line in the country. Hence, the rivers still provide a key means of transport. The principle legal source of foreign exchange is the Nam Ngum hydroelectric plant, which exports a large proportion of its electricity to Thailand. At the same time, Laos it the world’s third largest opium producer, despite government efforts to combat illegal drug production.

The total land area is 236,800 sq km (91,429 sq miles) . The largely Bhuddist population has increased from 3.4 million in 1976 to 5.6 million in 2003. The main ethnic groups are the Lao Loum (who inhabit the lowland river valleys) 56%, the Lao Theung (who inhabit the upland hill areas) 34 % and the Lao Soung (a group of fiercely independent tribes – including the Hmong, Yaom and Man – who live in the mountain areas) 9%. The capital city is Vientiane.

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National History

Summary Narrative History

Timeline – Key Dates in Laos History

Further National Information

BBC News Profile: Laos
wikipedia: Laos
wikipedia: History of Laos
Discovering Laos
Business with Asia: Laos
CIA The World Factbook – Laos


Text to be added on the development of aviation in Laos.


Civil Aircraft Registrations

As a French Protectorate, civil aircraft in the territory used F-, until becoming independent within the French Union in 1949, when F-Oxxx was adopted. From 1955, civil aircraft were registered in the series F-LAAA to F-LAZZ. After independence in 1954, the identity prefix XW-xxx was allocated in 1959 and used from 1960, eg. Douglas DC-4 registered XW-PDF. In 1977, the registration prefix was changed to RDPL-xxxxx, where RDPL stands for République Démocratique Populaire du Laos, eg. Y-12 RDPL-34130.

All-time Laos – civil aircraft register (F-Laaa XW-nnn RDPL-nnn).
[Get involved with the Aeroflight Cloud.]

Aircraft Operators

Military Air Arms

Current military air arms-
Air Force (Lao People’s Liberation Army Air Force)

Historical military air arms-
Air Force (Aviation National Laotienne) [1955-1960]
Air Force (Royal Lao Air Force) [1960-1975]
Rebel Air Force (Kong Le) [1960-1963]
Rebel Air Force (Pathet Lao) [1960-1975]

Central Government Agencies

All government aircraft are operated by the LPLAAF on behalf of the state

Public Service Aviation

No information

Commercial Aviation

Air Lao SA (1952-1961)
Air Vientiane Laos (1964-1967+)
Lane Xang Airlines (c.1974)
Lao Airlines – SATA (1967-1975)
Lao Airlines (Lao Aviation until March 2003)
Lao Air Lines (ceased operation)
Laos Air Charter (1967-1975)
Lao Aviation (previously Civil Aviation Co.)
Royal Air Lao (1962-1975)
Sorya Airlines (ceased operaton)
Xiengkhouang Air Transport (1967-1975)

wikipedia: Airlines of Laos
The World’s Airlines: Laos

Private Aviation

To be added


Aircraft Manufacturers


Aircraft Maintenance/Repair Depots

None known.


Civil Airports & Airfields

Civil Airports and Airfields-
Vientiane International Airport
other regional airports
Airports in Laos

Military Air Bases & Airfields

Military Air Bases Listing

On Show

Aviation Museums

Lao People’s Army Museum

Airshow Dates

Key Airshow Dates

More Information

Aviation-Related Magazines

None known.

Aviation Bibliography

Laotian Aviation Bibliography – to be added

Web Links

Laos: The Secret War
(Detailed coverage of covert US involvement during the 1960s)
The Aircraft of Air America
(Extensive coverage of the CIA’s air operations in SE Asia)
CIA Air Operations in Laos, 1955-1974
(History of the CIAs air operations in Laos)
The CIAs Airlines in Laos
(Very detailed coverage of the aircraft and operators)
Lao Flying Service
(Laotian air charter operator)
Lao WestCoast Helicopter
(Laos Helicopter operator)
Aviation Safety Network; Occurrences in Laos
(Listing of aircraft crashes in Laos since the 1950s)

Laos National History

The French first arrived in Indo-China in the 1860s, and found a weakened and divided Laotian kingdom which had fallen under the control of Thailand. After a series of clashes with Thailand, Laos became a French protectorate in 1893. Colonial rule was consolidated in 1907.

In early 1942 the country was invaded by Japan, who then used the existing French Vichy administration to control the country. In March 1945 Laos declared independence from France, with Japanese encouragement. The French returned in 1946 and quickly regained control, although the king was allowed to remain as a constitutional monarch. Laos was granted self-government within the French Union on 19 July 1949. In 1950 the communist-backed Laos Patriotic Front (LPF) was established to oppose French rule. An armed wing, the Pathet Lao was created a year later. Backed by the Viet Minh, the Pathet Lao gained control of the northeast of the country during 1953. On 23 October 1953 Laos achieved independence as a constitutional monarchy. Following a conference in Geneva regarding the occupied northern provinces, full sovereignty was gained on 29 December 1954.

From 1954 to 1958 a broad coalition government including Pathet Lao elements was in control, but elections in 1958 shattered the frail unity achieved so far. Factional rivalry between communists, neutralists and the US-backed right-wing government escalated into civil war. During 1961 and 1962 attempts were made to re-establish the broad coalition, but they failed to achieve lasting success.

In 1964 the United States commenced bombing attacks on North Vietnamese bases in Laos, followed by a prolonged campaign against the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the eastern part of the country. Despite support from the CIA, Laotian government forces continued to lose ground, and in 1970 the Plain of Jars to the south of Luang Prabang was captured by North Vietnamese troops. Between January and March 1971 South Vietnamese troops also staged an invasion of Southern Laos with US air support.

On 21 February 1973 a ceasefire was agreed between Pathet Lao and government forces. Negotiations led to a political and military settlement on 29 July 1973. A government of national unity was inaugurated in April 1974. In late 1975, after communist victories in Vietnam and Cambodia, the Pathet Lao seized control of Laos. On 2 December 1975, the monarchy was abolished and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic proclaimed. A Vietnamese-style communist regime was introduced. In 1977 a 25-year friendship treaty was signed with Vietnam.

During 1979 Vietnamese and Laotian forces invaded Cambodia from Laos to otherthrow the murderous Pol Pot regime. By 1980 the Laotian Government had realised that it’s attempt to introduce communist reforms had seriously damaged the economy. Consequently, the programme of collectivising farms was abandoned and efforts to promote private enterprise initiated. At the same time, increasing popular resentment over the dominant role that Vietnam continued to play in the running of the country lead to large-scale arrests. On 15 September 1980 an anti-Vietnamese group, the Lao People’s National Liberation Front was formed, and over the last 25 years this group has been blamed for sporadic guerrilla raids and terrorist bomb attacks within the country.

Between December 1987 and February 1988 Laos and Thailand wee involved in a series of border clashes over disputed territory. A formal ceasefire ended the fighting. During 1988 the substational contingent of Vietnamese troops based in Laos was sharply reduced. The first elections since 1975 were held during 1989, although all candidates had to be approved by the ruling communist party.

In 1997 Laos joined ASEAN – the Association of South East Asian Nations. In February 2002 fresh parliamentary elections were held, with the communists winning all but one seat.

Sporadic fighting has taken place with anti-government forces – principally the Lao Citizens Movement for Democracy, which proclaimed an ‘uprising’ in June 2003. Government army units have staged several counter-offensives, backed by air support.

Laos is now one of the last remaining communist states in the world. It is still extremely poor, with many people outside the capital living without electricity or basic facilities. Observers believe that there is currently a power struggle going on between the ageing politburo, which wants closer ties with Vietnam, and the younger part members, who see close ties with the booming Chinese economy as the future.

Laos Key Dates

10th C. AD    Thai tribes begin to settle Laos.
mid 14th C. AD    Laos first united as one kingdom – called the Lan Xang. Bhuddism introduced.
17th C. AD    Lan Xang kingdom extends control over much of central Indochina.
1707    Lan Xang kingdom split into Luang Prabang and Vientiane kingdoms – constant warfare for the next century.
1778-1893    Laos region dominated by Siam (Thailand).
1778    Vientiane captured by Thai army.
1827    Vientiane destroyed in Thai invasion.
1860s    The French arrive in the region. Start of Franco-Thai border clashes.
1893    Laos becomes French protectorate – incorporated into French Indochina.
1899    Creation of a unified Laos under the French.
1942-45    Occupied by Japan. Administered via French Vichy government.
March 1945    Proclamation of Laotian independence encouraged by Japan.
1946    France re-establishes control. Laotian king becomes constitutional monarch.
19 July 1949    Laos is granted self-government within the French Union.
1950    Communist-backed Lao Patriotic Front (LPF) established to oppose French rule.
1951    Pathet Lao founded as the armed wing of the LPF.
1953    Vietnamese Viet Minh & Pathet Lao gain control of northern provinces.
23 October 1953    Independence as a constitutional monarchy.
1954    Geneva Conference agreement gives northern provinces to Pathet Lao and remainder to royalists.
29 December 1954    Laos gains full territorial sovereignty.
1954    Unified Royalist-Pathet Lao government formed.
1958    Elections lead to hostilities between Pathet Lao and right-wing government.
1959-62    Civil war between communists, neutralists and pro-western factions.
1962    Geneva Conference arranges for short-lived coalition government.
1963    Pathet Lao begins armed struggle with royal government.
1964    US commences bombing of North Vietnamese bases in Laos.
1964    Right wing military coup attempt.
1965+    North Vietnamese establish Ho Chi Minh Trail through eastern Laos.
1970    Laotian government troops lose Plain of Jars to North Vietnamese.
1970    CIA activity in Laos revealed.
Jan-March 1971    South Vietnamese troops invade southern Laos with US air support.
1971    North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces capture major government positions.
21 Feb 1973    Ceasefire agreed.
29 July 1973    LPF and royal government agree on a political & military settlement.
August 1973    Right-wing coup put down.
April 1974    Coalition government formed with Pathet Lao.
2 Dec 1975    Pathet Lao communists seize power, abolish monarchy and proclaim Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
1977    25-year friendship treaty with Vietnam.
1979    Vietnamese and Laotian forces invade Cambodia and overthrow Pol Pot regime.
1980    Moves towards collective farming abandoned. Government starts promoting private enterprise.
1980    Increasing public resentment over continuing Vietnamese control of the country.
Nov 1980    Laos moves to improve relations with the USA, China and Thailand.
1986    Laos moves towards a more open economic system.
Dec 1987-Feb 1988    Border clashes with Thailand over disputed region.
1988    Vietnam begins major troop withdrawals from Laos.
1988    Further liberalisation of the economy.
1989    First elections held since 1975. All candidates had to be approved by communists.
March 1991    New constitution adopted.
1994    Thailand-Laos bridge over the Mekong opens. First direct road link between the two countries.
1997    Laos joins ASEAN – the Association of South East Asian Nations.
July 1997    Laos and Russia sign a defence co-operation pact.
Feb 2002    Parliamentary elections – communists win all but one seat.