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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New airline set to take off

New airline set to take off


Cambodian airlines have a history marred by safety concerns and financial difficulties. One of the worst Cambodian air accidents involved Progress MulTi Air (PMT). One of its aircraft crashed in the mountainous region of Kampot, en route from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, in 2007. All 22 passengers and crew died, including 13 South Korean and three Czech tourists. Following the crash, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) carried out inspections of seven foreign airlines. PMT Air topped the list with 10 deficiencies and ultimately suspended flights in 2008. The airline also came under scrutiny in 2005, when a PMT aircraft struck the side of the runway on landing. There were no fatalities. Siem Reap Airways, founded in 2000, ceased operating last year amid concerns over safety standards and financial irregularities. An audit by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in 2008 found the airline did not comply with the Cambodian safety regulations and raised concerns of the Cambodian civil aviation authorities' ability to enforce international safety standards. The European Commission also banned the airline from operating in Europe. Royal Khmer Airlines also came under criticism about its safety measures, this time from the South Korean Ministry of Construction and Transportation in 2006. Over the past fifteen years, numerous airlines have tried and failed to become financially viable in Cambodia, including Royal Phnom Penh Airways, Kampuchea Airlines, Angkor Airways Corporation, First Cambodia Airlines, Royal Air Cambodge and Air Dream.

The twin-turbo ATR 72 short-haul airliner, built by French-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR, seats 72 passengers and is operated by two pilots. It made its maiden flight in 1988. Over 50 airlines worldwide use the ATR 72, including Vietnam Airlines, TransAsia Airways, and Jet Airways. The ATR 72 was involved in six airline crashes between 1994 and 2008. The most serious crash occurred in 1994 when an American Eagle Flight crashed in icy conditions during descent. All four crew members and 64 passengers were killed. In 2005, a Tuninter Flight en route from Italy to Tunisia, developed engine problems. The plane crashed into the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Palermo, killing sixteen of the 39 people on board. A TransAsia Airways cargo flight from Taipei to Macau crashed due to icing in 2002, killing both crew members. Seventeen people were injured when an American Eagle Flight crashed on landing in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 2004. In August last year an Air Dolomiti flight, en route from Germany to Italy, abandoned take off after a smoke alarm activated and flames were reportedly seen by passengers. In December, a Mount Cook Airlines flight en route from Wellington to Christchurch, New Zealand, lost power in its right engine one minute after take-off. The incident is still under investigation. 

Cambodia plans to put Cambodia Angkor Airline (CAA) into operation and inaugurate Preah Sihanouk International Airport, formerly the Kang Keng Airport, on July 27, officials said Wednesday.

Mao Havannal, secretary of state at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, said that on the day of the airline's inauguration, only two ATR-72 Cambodia Angkor aircraft would fly between Siem Reap and Preah Sihanouk province.

"In fact, on inauguration day, only the national air route by the newly established airline will fly. It is a kind of lightweight plane which flies locally, internationally and regionally to countries like Singapore, Vietnam and  Bangkok," the secretary of state said.

Mao Havannal added that the national airline was a joint venture between the Cambodian government and Vietnam Airlines.

Plans to buy Airbus

According to a plan signed by the government and Vietnam Airlines, CAA will buy Airbus 320 and 321 aircraft in late 2009 and early 2010 to expand its routes to other foreign countries, including South Korea.

"I think that if the company sees that a joint venture can boost profits, the firm will order more planes to meet the company's needs," he added.

Officials from the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation stated that representatives from certain regional airlines in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos would also be present in the July 27 inauguration ceremony to find out about Cambodia's business potential for airline business in their respective nations.

"Now, I am encouraging some foreign airlines to fly directly to Preah Sihanouk International Airport by asking them to pay low taxes on landing," the secretary of state said.   

Travel agencies in the dark

Regarding the initial operation of CAA, no travel agencies have confirmed information about ticket booking by tourists who wish to visit Preah Sihanouk province.

Eam Kimsrun, director of Cambodia Jet Travel, said that tourists had not booked tickets to the coastal province with the Cambodian airline.

Ho Vandy, managing director of World Express Tour and Travel, said that his company had not received any official news concerning upcoming flights with CAA.

"We are yet to receive any official information about the name of our national airline, the price [of its tickets], its flights and the management of the airline. We are asking all relevant ministries and institutions to provide clear information to us so that it will be easy for us to give information to tourists," the director said.

However, he considered the first step of the national airline as new production for Cambodia's tourism sector, which has also been affected by the global economic crisis.

Airline to boost economy

CAA was formed not only to make profits but to also provide a good economic outlook for Cambodia, Vandy said, adding that the presence of the new national airline would help lure tourists traveling via large ships through Preah Sihanouk Port to visit Angkor Wat.    

Sona Soth, director of Phnom Penh International Airport, said that in general, once an airport is in operation, it is already required to meet international air traffic standards. He said before the new airport opened, the International Civil Aviation Organisation inspected its navigation equipment, runway and infrastructure.

"This airport is safe enough to land and take off on," he said.



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