Monday, June 15, 2009

Government Plans to Start New Airline Operation

BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA

The Royal Government of Cambodia plans to open a new national airline next month to be known as “Cambodia Angkor Air.” This follows the temporary suspension of the state-run Royal Air Cambodge in 2001.

Thong Khon, Minister of Tourism, said that the Government has invested capital in a joint venture with Indonesian organizations to establish the new national airline. The first flights are scheduled for July 1.

“Cambodia Angkor Air is the only national airline in Cambodia after the state-owned Royal Air Cambodge ceased business in 2001. The new national airline will begin operations from July 1, 2009,” the Minister said during a telephone interview with The Southeast Asia Weekly on June 3.

The Minister continued that in the first phase, local flights would be between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap province and between Phnom Penh to Sihanouk province. For international flights, the airline will operate from Phnom Penh to Bangkok in Thailand, Vientiane in Laos and Hanoi, in Vietnam.

“We hope that the new national airline will help to boost tourism and encourage more international tourists to visit Cambodia in future,” Thong Khon said. “Currently, there are only four airlines operating in Cambodia, but we hope to see many more in the near future.”

He added that the new airline would receive bankruptcy protection from the government, enabling it to compete with foreign airline companies operating in Cambodia.

According to the Minister, there are 19 foreign airline companies offering 100 flights per day from Phnom Penh International Airport and Siem Reap province. He said that most of the international flights originate from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, and South Korea.

He said that over two million foreign tourists visited Cambodia in 2007, rising to 2.5 million in 2008. About 60 percent of them visited Phnom Penh, Kampot and Sihanouk provinces. However, due to the global economic crisis, the number of foreign tourists visiting Cambodia has decreased by 2 percent in the first quarter of this year, he said.

Mao Hasvanal, Secretary of State at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in Cambodia, said that the Civil Aviation Authority had not received the new airline’s licensing documents as yet. However, he welcomed the development.

The Secretary of State said there are two airline companies and two helicopter companies currently offering domestic flights in Cambodia.

“I hope that Cambodia Angkor Air will become the service provider of choice for national and international passengers. I also hope it will help the Cambodian tourism sector to develop,” Hasvanal told The Southeast Asia Weekly by telephone.

Ho Vandy, Co-Chairman of the Tourism Working Group with the Cambodia-Private Sector Forum, said he too welcomed developments. He said the Forum has been lobbying the Royal Government to create the new national carrier since February 18, 2009.

“I welcome and appreciate the Government’s acceptance of the Private Sector Forum’s request to establish a new airline for Cambodia,” he said. “I hope that this new airline will help to boost the tourism sector and generate more work for people in Cambodia.”

Central Express Tours is a major Japanese tourist company working out of Siem Reap Province. Buth Sokuntheara is Operations Manager for the organization. He supported the establishment of a national airline, as there has been no flag carrier in the skies above Cambodia since 2001.

Sokuntheara said that under present circumstances, domestic travelers and tourist had little option but to choose Thai Airways for flights between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap; for international flights, they had a range of foreign operators to choose from.

“I think that Cambodia should have its own national airline and I appreciate the establishment of the new airline. It is an entirely appropriate development for a peaceful, progressive and politically stable country,” he said. “I hope that this new airline will attract more international tourists to visit our many attractions as well as encouraging international travel.”

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