Local charter carrier Tonle Sap Airlines has suspended flights until June, in what appears to be the latest of a series of disruptions affecting the airline, which has also recently encountered financial turbulence.
The airline, which operates chartered flights from Siem Reap to China, Taipei, and Hong Kong, has suspended its services since April 29, and plans to resume them after June 3, the Taipei Times wrote last month. Chartered flights are typically hired via private arrangements with large tour groups or companies, while scheduled flights operate on fixed schedules.
It is not known how many tourists are affected by the suspension. A company employee would only say that the lease agreements for its planes have expired, so operations have temporarily ceased. “We will operate again in a few months but have not decided on the destinations yet,” the employee said, without elaborating.
Tonle Sap has four planes leased from different companies. The airline is still holding on to a Boeing 757, while its other Boeing 757 has been re-leased since last year to Nepal’s BB Airways, aviation data website Planespotters shows.
Meanwhile, its other two planes – both Boeing 737s – were returned earlier this year to its lessor, Slovakian-based Air Explore, said Air Explore’s CEO Martin Stulajter.
Since this period is not Cambodia’s peak tourism season, Stulajter speculated that Tonle Sap chose to suspend flights instead of “having its planes sitting there doing nothing”.
But finance issues appear to have fuelled Tonle Sap’s decision too. Tonle Sap ceased operations “with the intention of refinancing” itself, aviation website Ch-aviation said, without giving further details.
Tonle Sap’s vice-president, Ou Serey Sopheap, did not reply to the Post’s email yesterday.
In February 2012, a plane leased by Tonle Sap was grounded after its lessor, a Taiwanese airline, said Tonle Sap still owed it about $105,000, leaving more than 200 tourists stranded for ten hours. In September 2011, a flight suspension by the airline left over 800 tourists stuck in China.