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Flights planned from Beijing to Siem Reap, Phnom Penh

An Air China Airlines Airbus sits in final stages of assembly line production in Tianjin
An Air China Airlines Airbus sits in final stages of assembly line production in Tianjin, China, last year. Air China is slated to schedule direct flights from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap to Beijing as early as November and February, respectively. Reuters

Flights planned from Beijing to Siem Reap, Phnom Penh

Chinese flag carrier Air China is expected to launch the first non-stop flights from Beijing to Cambodia as early as November this year, officials said yesterday.

The stated-owned, Beijing-based airline has applied to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to fly to Siem Reap in November and Phnom Penh in February, according to a release on Monday posted on the CAAC’s website.

Director of the Air Transport Department of Cambodia’s State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, Vann Chanty, said that officials from both Cambodia and China had a meeting in Beijing in May to discuss establishing the new routes.

“They informed us that Air China will start the direct flights from Beijing to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. But, so far, we have not received any official application to us yet,” he said.

Airlines establishing new routes between two countries need approval from the aviation authorities on both sides.

Cambodian passengers intent on going to Beijing, a city of about 20 million, normally have a stopover in a regional city or Chinese metropolis like Shanghai.

China Southern Airlines operates 10 flights per week from Phnom Penh to the mainland province of Guangzhou. Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines serves flights from Shanghai to Phnom Penh and to Siem Reap.

Prices hover in the $600 range. But normally, Chanty said, direct flights mean cheaper flights.

“We’re welcome to have direct flights from Beijing to our country because it can attract more investors and tourists from China to the country – especially, it is easily for officials of both countries to exchange visits,” he said.

Based on regulations, he said the application process for a Cambodian Air Operator Certificate (a licence to fly and land here) takes at least three months.

According to a CAAC spokesperson who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media, two of Air China’s Boeing B737-800s were in the line-up to take off once a day to both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

About 334,000 Chinese tourists visited Cambodia last year, a 35 per cent leap from 2011, and tourism officials are intent on luring even more.

Cambodia hopes to nearly double its Chinese visitors by the end of 2015, and reach 1.8 million by 2018.

Air China’s plan comes amid a flurry of activity in recent weeks aimed at better connecting tourists and officials in both countries.

A new exemption that took effect on June 1 allows Cambodian diplomats and high-ranking government officials to travel to Hong Kong without a visa and stay for 14 days, in an effort to boost ties with the commercial Chinese city.

Private Chinese carrier Juneyao Airlines said earlier this month that it was planning to launch direct flights from Shanghai to Cambodia over the summer, although the routes have yet to materialise.

Perhaps the most surprising idea of them all came from Minister of Tourism Kong Thon’s announcement on June 19 that talks were under way to create a ministry-approved “Chinatown” in Phnom Penh as a way of attracting spending from the world’s second-biggest economy.

“We need to do advertisements in Chinese language, websites in Chinese language,” he said, explaining the idea.

Cambodia attracted $9.17 billion investment from China in the last 18 years, making China the largest investor in the country, according to the data from Council for the Development of Cambodia.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the government-private sector working group, said most of the tourists will come from China to Cambodia, not the other way around.

Chinese tourists “bring in a lot of money to the people and the country” he said, adding that Cambodians visiting Beijing will likely make the trip for the express purpose of taking in the Great Wall, sections of which run near the city.

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