Airline sees Q3 decline in passenger numbers on Siem Reap and Phnom Penh routes as rising fuel prices squeeze profits
BANGKOK Airways carried 11 percent fewer passengers into and out of Cambodia in the third quarter compared with the same period a year earlier, according to Deputy Director Ekkaphon Nata-o-sot.
The Thai-based carrier flew 75,824 passengers on its flights between Bangkok and Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in the three months to the end of September, but Ekkaphon said in an email Tuesday he expected the downturn to be short-lived.
“As soon as the kingdom gets to see a rebound in the tourism sector, I believe the airline business will thrive again,” he said. “All in all, Cambodia definitely has a lot of opportunities for the airline business to grow in years to come.”
According to figures from the Ministry of Tourism, air arrivals were down 13 percent year-on-year across the first eight months of 2008. Figures are not yet available for September.
The airline announced recently that it lost 1.05 billion Thai baht (US$31.49 million) over the 18 months to June this year and would suspend four international routes to cut costs – Bangkok to Guilin, Xian, Hiroshima and Ho Chi Minh City.
Ekkaphon confirmed that routes to Cambodia would not be affected. The Cambodian government’s decision to not renew the airline’s permit to fly domestic routes in the Kingdom also would not jeopardise the routes’ future, he said.
Bangkok Airways began non-stop services between Bangkok and Phnom Penh on September 19, 1997, and between Bangkok and Siem Reap on January 9 the following year. It currently operates three flights daily between the two capitals and five flights between Bangkok and Siem Reap.
“Our service to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap will remain unaffected,” Ekkaphon said.
Domestic route temporary
However, Bangkok Airways will cease service between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap on October 25, when its temporary permit for the routes expires. The permit was issued on November 22 last year when the airline’s Cambodian subsidiary, Siem Reap Airways, was grounded amid concerns over safety standards and financial irregularities after an audit by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Several representatives of Cambodia’s State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) said last month that the carrier’s permit would not be renewed, giving a boost to the fledgling domestic carrier Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA), which made its maiden flight on July 28.
The SSCA has since softened its stance, saying the permit was always meant to be temporary, and that Siem Reap Airlines can apply to take over the Phnom Penh-Siem Reap route when Bangkok Airway’s permit expires.
Ekkaphon has supported the government line. “We had that service in place because after the Siem Reap Airways wasn’t able to operate there was no other airline operating on the route, and it was the beginning of the high tourist season,” he said.
Ekkaphon said flights between the two cities were just 55 percent full on average during the period.
He also said the launch of CAA had not affected the Bangkok Airways’ business.
“Although the new carrier made its debut on this route in late July, the tour operators still booked with us, for they are confident in our service and our commitment to deliver the best to our passengers,” he said.