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Air link to Russia likely

091228_07
Cambodia hopes an open-skies agreement with Russia will help boost tourists at Angkor Wat and other attractions.

Embassy official expects direct flights to commence by 2011.

DIRECT flights between Russia and Cambodia are set to begin next year or 2011 at the latest, a Russian embassy official said Friday.

Delegates from the two largest Russian airlines will meet with Cambodian civil aviation authorities at the end of January in the hope of finalising an open-skies agreement between the two countries that has been in negotiation for two years, embassy councillor Dilyara Borovic said.

“When we reach the agreement, the Russian civil aviation will officially allow the two popular airlines to fly to both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap,” she said without naming them.

Russia’s two biggest airlines are Aeroflot Russian Airlines and S7 Airlines, according to Air Transport World’s Web site.

Borovic said it was hoped direct flights would begin this year, but admitted it may take until 2011 to complete the agreement and launch the routes.

The two airlines already service Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi in Vietnam directly from Russia, she said, adding that connecting flights from Vietnam to Cambodia would also be discussed in the future.

State Secretariat of Civil Aviation Cabinet Chief Long Chheng said the Kingdom supports the concept of direct routes, but is waiting for further details from the Russian foreign affairs ministry before committing to an open-skies deal.

“If we can negotiate direct flights with Russia, it will show the growing strength of our civil aviation,” he said.

Borovic said Southeast Asia is a growing destination for the 2 million Russians traveling abroad each year, placing Thailand as the second-most popular location for its tourists after Germany.

“If they can visit Thailand, why not Cambodia?” she said.

Visits from Russia reached 13,861 in the first 10 months of 2009, up from 12,885 during the same period last year, bucking an overall decline in arrivals by air, according figures from the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism.

In October, just 85,671 overseas visitors landed in the Kingdom’s airports, down 8 percent from 93,175 arrivals in the same month last year, the figures show.

Kong Sophearak, director of the Ministry of Tourism’s Statistics and Tourism Information Department, said the number of arrivals from Russia was low compared with other countries, but that direct flights would help to boost the tourism sector in Cambodia.

Cambodia’s State Secretaiat of Civil Aviation has this year inked direct-flight agreements with four countries, including Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and, most recently, the Philippines.

Under the terms of its agreement with the Philippines, up to seven flights a week originating from Cambodia are authorised to land at Manila, 14 in the Clark Freeport Zone and another 14 at any point in the Philippines outside the two aviation centres.

Cebu Pacific Air is expected to be the first Philippine carrier to begin flying direct to the Kingdom, with flights authorised to commence in March or April.

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