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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Local cargo airline looks to get off the ground

Local cargo airline looks to get off the ground

A Chinese-backed cargo airline is hoping to launch services from the capital early this year, marking the first time in nearly a decade for a Cambodia-based freight carrier to take to the skies, an aviation official said yesterday.

Phnom Penh Air Cargo Co Ltd is expected to submit its application for an air operator’s certificate (AOC) after receiving preliminary approval from the Council of Ministers in January 2015 to operate an air freight and logistics firm.

“If Phnom Penh Air Cargo receives an AOC it will be the first local cargo airline since 2008,” Keo Sivorn, director-general of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), said yesterday.

The company could not be reached yesterday, but according to information published on its website in Chinese it was established with $30 million in registered capital. The carrier plans to launch with one or two Boeing 737 freight aircraft, capable of transporting up to 5,000 tonnes of cargo per year, while its medium-term goal is to operate three to six aircraft capable of 20,000 tonnes of cargo throughput per year.

The airline’s focus will be on scheduled air freight service between Phnom Penh and Nanning in southern China. It will also look to connect Nanning and other ASEAN countries.

“There is huge potential for trade in Cambodia as our exports are increasing, so air cargo offers an opportunity for investment,” said Sivorn.

According to SSCA records, three cargo airlines currently operate scheduled freight service to Cambodia, namely Cathay Pacific, Turkish Airlines and K-Mile. Several other carriers, including Raya Airways, Emirates SkyCargo and Air Bridge Cargo operate charter flights.

Sivorn suggested that Phnom Penh Air Cargo would be smart to arrange contracts with local exporters for regular air freight shipments, especially for garments and time-sensitive agricultural produce.

“If we have [more scheduled] air cargo, we will [be] able to compete on time and cost, as [most] existing cargo operators only offer charter flights,” he said.

Khek Norinda, spokesman of Cambodia Airports, the company that operates the Kingdom’s three international airports, said air cargo activity grew robustly in 2016, increasing by 19 percent to 45,000 tonnes.

“The performance reflects the country’s economic dynamism combined with an increasing demand for air cargo, which resulted in more freight carriers operating in Cambodia,” he said, forecasting a further 15 percent throughput growth in the coming year.

The last Cambodian-registered cargo carrier, Russian-owned Imtrec Aviation, shut down in 2008 after the SSCA revoked its AOC. The action followed the crash in October 2007 of one of the company’s ageing Antonov AN-12s. The cargo plane slammed into a rice paddy in Kandal province while carrying a shipment of garments to Singapore during bad weather.

According to Sivorn, the airline was unable to meet the safety standards set by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation and its 1960s-era Antonovs were deemed unfit for operation.

“The company could not meet the regulatory standards, and its planes were quite old so they also faced landing restrictions in other countries,” he said.

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