New national carrier Cambodia Angkor Air weighs possibility of charter flights to refurbished airport, aviation officials say
CAMBODIA’S PREAH Sihanouk International Airport is now expected to open to air traffic from November, with Cambodia’s national carrier slated to begin offering chartered services to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap from some time next month.
State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) Secretary of State Mao Havannal said Tuesday that long-awaited upgrades to the coastal resort’s sole airport had been completed by Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports (SCA), which also operates airports in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. “I went to check all the technical equipment last Friday,” he said. “Everything is in place and complies with international standards.”
SCA had confirmed it was on track for the launch, which was originally planned to coincide with the maiden flight of Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA) on July 27, but had not set a precise date, Mao Havannal said.
The airport operator had also confirmed the launch would be presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen and top officials from France. The delayed launch was attributed to the wishes of SCA to have French Prime Minister Nicholas Sarkozy in attendance.
Soy Sokhan, SSCA undersecretary of state in charge of CAA, said the airline would initially launch chartered flights only from Sihanoukville, though it was examining the feasibility of establishing regular routes between the town and both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
“Firstly, we need to complete a market survey looking at the number of tourists, and contact with travel agents who book passengers on cruises to get an idea of potential demand,” he said.
SCA is due to announce its flight schedule for Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanouk international airports on October 21, according to a statement issued Tuesday.
Mao Havannal said Siem Reap Airways, which has been cleared by the government to take over domestic routes from its parent Bangkok Airways on October 25, had not been considered for a permit to fly from the airport as the firm has not registered any planes in Cambodia, a requirement for domestic operators to receive an Air Operator Certificate (AOC).
He also cast doubt on whether the airline would be ready to take over any routes from its parent on October 25.
“I don’t know for sure if Siem Reap Airways will be able to fly or not,” he said. “It depends on the airline because we have already confirmed with them that if they want to resume their operations, they need to register an airplane [in Cambodia]. It already completely complies with SSCA requirements and has satisfied concerns over its operations.”
The government decided last month not to renew a special permit issued to Bangkok Airways when Siem Reap Airways was grounded in controversial circumstances at the end of last year following an International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) audit of civil aviation standards in Cambodia. A full reason for the grounding has never been publicly released.
Siem Reap Airways General Manager Terry Alton said Tuesday the airline was in discussions with financiers about leasing a plane to fly the Siem Reap-Phnom Penh route and was hopeful of concluding an agreement.
“It could happen tomorrow, it could happen in a week, it could happen in a month,” he said.
No airplanes available
Alton added that Bangkok Airways did not have a spare plane to loan for registration in Cambodia, as required by Cambodian law.
Siem Reap Airlines has already put in its request for flight slots to SCA ahead of next week’s announcement, but it had not asked for routes through Sihanoukville, he said.
Bangkok Airways Deputy Manager of International Media Relations Ekkaphon Nanta O’Sot said that passengers booked on the Phnom Penh-Siem Reap route through Bangkok Airways will need to be transferred to CAA if Siem Reap Airways is not back in operation on that date.