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Angkor Air set for big take-off

THE Kingdom’s national airline, Cambodia Angkor Air is set to buy two new planes in order to expand its flight network to South Korea, China and Japan.

The carrier, set up last July in a joint venture between the Cambodian government and Vietnam Airlines, plans to purchase two 168-seat Airbus 321s – which according to a price list compiled by the French maker cost about US$95.5 million each.

Soy Sokhan, undersecretary of state at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, the organisation in charge of the Cambodian side of CAA, said yesterday that the purchases were planned for “late 2010 or early 2011”.

“The first destinations to fly to are South Korea, China and Japan, as soon as the new aircraft come,” he said.

The new aircraft will expand CAA’s fleet from three aircraft to five.

The company, set up with an initial investment of US$100 million under a 30-year agreement, now operates two ATR-72 aircraft and an Airbus 321 in 16 daily flights serving Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City.

Soy Sokhan said the planes would be brought to Cambodia from Europe. He declined to reveal financing details, saying this was confidential.

Officials and analysts alike said the move could provide a boost to Cambodia’s economy and tourism sector.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said: “We are really eager to see our national carrier fly to those countries.” He added that there were no direct flights operating between the Kingdom and Japan, and that South Korea and China are the leading countries in terms of both visitor arrivals and investment in the Kingdom.

“It’s very good if the direct flight with Japan comes online,” Thong Khon said.

However, both the minister and the private sector had words of advice for CAA as it expands. Thong Khon said the company should consider launching regular flights to Sihanoukville as soon as possible in a bid to attract tourists to Cambodia’s coast.

President of World Express Tours and Travel Ho Vandy, who is also co-chairman of the government-private sector forum on tourism, emphasised that CAA must be competitive.

“On behalf of the tourism private sector, we’d like to suggest that the CAA should set competitive prices to encourage more passengers to use it,” he said. “We also see that service and hospitality on board is still limited. There should be an improvement, and flight attendants’ uniforms should reflect Khmer national identification.”

But CAA remains confident of its market appeal, despite modest initial profits.

Soy Sokhan said: “CAA’s popularity is increasing day by day. For high season, which starts in October, we expect that more tourists will fly with CAA.”

He said CAA had turned a profit since it began operations last year, but that it remained “little”.

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