Cambodia’s commercial aviation market is small, but growing at the fastest pace of all its Asean counterparts. While there have been many who tried and failed in the past to establish a long-term national flag carrier, none apart from Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA) have been able to retain their foothold in the tiny marketplace. This week CEO of Cambodia Angkor Air, Trinh Hong Quang, speaks exclusively to, the Post’s Eddie Morton about the airline’s monopoly over Cambodia’s aviation market, how the company struggled through its formative years, competition and what’s on for 2014.
How are CAA’s passenger numbers performing?
At the moment, it is safe to say we doubled our passenger numbers in 2013 compared with 2012. But you know, when we initially started CAA in 2009, it was not easy especially during the first couple of years. I can say that CAA is on the right track financially, and we are expecting positive passenger and financial growth figures again this year.
What were the challenges you faced during those first few years?
The biggest of them all was making people recognise CAA as an airline in the first place. It is not so difficult to have aircraft and scheduled flights, but if no one is aware of our brand or standing in the domestic aviation market, what is it good for? So yes, that was the largest challenge, but we can say now that after those early years, many people throughout the region now know of our airline. Many other larger airlines are aware of our product and this is good as it means our name is becoming known and that we are becoming competitive.
Are you expanding your service to more destinations?
We already fly to Bangkok from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, to all major cities in Vietnam, to Guangzhou, Shanghai and a number of other Chinese cities. The destination we are most optimistic about is China. It is no secret that China is a very big market for Cambodia’s tourism industry, especially for tourists visiting Angkor Wat. I believe this market will only further develop over the next 10 years. This is a massive market for us. Also, this year we will start new destinations in Japan and Singapore, both focused on getting tourists to Angkor Wat. We have conducted conversations about these new destinations and they are in our 2014 plan.
What else is on for 2014?
This year is promising to be the biggest year on record for CAA. We are confident we will carry more than one million passengers for the first time. In fact, we are estimating that we will carry 1.2 million passengers in 2014, well above the target.
New destinations and more passengers – will you need more aircraft then?
We will add another two aircraft to our fleet, taking our total fleet to eight. Next year, we will increase that to nine aircraft, and between 2015 and 2020, we are confident our fleet will increase to more than 20 aircraft. All the aircraft will be Airbus A321s.
CAA offers a business class service. How is that performing?
Now is not the right time to concentrate on business class services. The Cambodia market is primarily a tourists market and like other developing nations such as Vietnam and Laos, Cambodia still does not have a large contingent of business passengers travelling on a regular enough basis. So now we are focusing on our tourist market and maybe five more years down the line we will look more closely at business class.
What are your views on Cambodia’s aviation sector? What needs to change?
The only priority for the aviation industry is to boost the Kingdom’s economy via tourism. That in turn will boost the aviation sector. Angkor Wat is a huge market for Cambodian aviation and making it easier to travel there is very important. If we can improve transport infrastructure within the country, this will certainly benefit tourism numbers. For example, the airports are very limited, so aviation development is limited.
Both domestic and international competition is looming. Is CAA ready?
This is true. Royal Group and Philippine Airlines plan to launch another national carrier, Cambodia Airlines. I think today the world is a very small place and it’s silly to think we can avoid competition.
Competition is a very good thing. Even in the face of fierce competition, CAA is ready to take on its competitors both domestically and internationally. The ASEAN Open Skies policy will free up the region’s airspace for all regional carriers to fly across borders from 2015 with little to no barriers.
We’re ready to face this and we will try our best. I can say that if five years ago Open Skies was being rolled out, CAA would not have been in a position to survive. CAA was weak. But after five years of operating and increasing our business, we have positioned our self – along with our partner Vietnam Airlines – to be competitive when this situation arises. We are ready.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity