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Aero aiming to open up Kingdom

leavin on a jetplane
Water way to travel: A Cessna 208 Caravan Amphibian plane docks on the Tatai river in Koh Kong province after a test flight by airline Aero Cambodia. Photo Supplied

LOCAL private airline Aero Cambodia intends to launch domestic chartered flights by the end of this year once it receives approval from the government.

The airline is preparing to apply for its air operator certificate from the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) and hopes to receive it by the end of the year, Aero Cambodia’s CEO Brian Naswall, said.

“We hope to go where Cambodia Angkor Air doesn’t go,” with potential destinations including Koh Kong, Battambang and Ratanakkiri, he said.

Eco-tourism is big in Ratanakkiri, but the road conditions make the journey uncomfortable, he said. Air travel is faster – flying from Phnom Penh to Ratanakkiri would take an hour and 15 minutes, he added.

Aero Cambodia also hopes to launch a Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville route, should no other airline do so first, according to Naswall. Earlier this year, the Post reported that Cambodia Angkor Air would likely start the same route this April.

“We will start off with chartered flights and, if our customers demand more, we may start scheduled flights,” he said. Airlines typically use chartered flights, organised via private hiring arrangements, to test market demand for new routes.

The airline’s eventual destinations would also depend on whether it can afford the airport fees and whether its test flights are successful, Naswall said.

Earlier this year, trial flights were executed successfully at Sihanoukville, Koh Kong and the islands around Koh Rong with the 12-seater Cessna 208 Caravan Amphibian plane. Having an amphibious plane allows the airline to reach more destinations, Naswall said.

The model is one of the six aircraft that Aero Cambodia hopes to eventually bring in, which will also include smaller planes like the two-seater Cessna 150.

A Cessna 208 Caravan Amphibian made in 1998 costs about $1.7 million.

Aero Cambodia, founded in 2010, consists of investors from Cambodia, Australia, Canada, and the US, most of whom are based in Cambodia, said Naswall, a US citizen and a licensed pilot.

“Finding investors from beyond Cambodia is the biggest challenge, as many do not know much about the country,” Naswall said.

He added he is also “trying to work to set up a [different] fee structure for smaller aircraft with the government, which has been very helpful”.

It costs more to fly each passenger with a smaller plane, so the airline is trying to keep costs low, he said.

Aero Cambodia would be Cambodia’s fourth local airline. Currently, Cambodia Angkor Air, Skywing Airlines, and TonleSap Airlines operate either regular or chartered flights, Soy Sokhan, SSCA’s undersecretary of state, said.

According to another SSCA undersecretary of state, Eng Soursdey, while “there are airfields in almost every province” in Cambodia, only four are currently usable – the domestic airports at Battambang, Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri and Koh Kong.

These airports have navigation facilities and staff working there, he said, even though he believes no airline currently flies there.

Co-chair of the Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism, Ho Vandy, said Aero Cambodia’s planned flights will boost tourism here. “Tourists spend a short time here, but they want to see many places.”

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