Philippine Airlines (PAL) plans to enter Cambodian skies for the first time with the launch of a direct flight from Manila, aviation officials said yesterday, though whether the airline will serve Phnom Penh or Siem Reap has yet to be decided.
Keo Sivorn, director-general of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), said the Philippine ambassador had requested that his agency issue a permit for the Philippine flag carrier to open its first air connection to the Cambodian capital. He said the SSCA would meet next week with PAL representatives to discuss the details.
“The request is from the Philippine Embassy, not PAL,” Sivorn said. “They would like the airline to fly from Manila to Phnom Penh.”
However, Pichr Sopontara, routes development manager at Cambodia Airports, the company that manages Cambodia’s three international airports, said PAL had no intention of connecting the two capitals and was instead aiming to fly from Manila to Siem Reap, the tourist gateway to Cambodia’s Angkor-era temples.
He said the legacy carrier plans to operate five flights a week on the route starting in May using Airbus 321s before increasing to daily service.
Low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific has operated up to four flights a week on this route since 2012 using smaller A320s.
Sopontara said that PAL’s plan to compete on the route was unexpected given the level of demand.
“It is a surprise decision for us since the traffic slightly decreased in 2015,” he said.
He added that Cambodia Airports intends to encourage PAL to pioneer a new route from Manila to Phnom Penh instead of competing for Siem Reap-bound passengers.
Kauv Vannak, business development manager at PTM Travel & Tours, an authorised local representative of both PAL and Cebu Pacific, said the market of outbound travel from Cambodia to the Philippines was quite small. Most bookings are inbound and handled by foreign ticketing agents.
“We sell tickets from Siem Reap to Manila to our customers, but not much,” he said.
PAL’s decision to serve the Cambodian market comes as a planned joint venture with tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group to launch a new domestic carrier, Cambodia Airlines, looks increasingly unlikely.
The airline was slated to begin operations in 2013, but the $10 million deal has repeatedly been delayed amid rumours PAL had shelved the project after re-evaluating its feasibility.
Sivorn, however, insisted the plan to launch Cambodia Airlines had not been abandoned entirely, but merely “postponed”.
Philippine Airlines has embarked on expanding its route network and upgrading its fleet since Philippine conglomerate San Miguel Corporation acquired a 49 per cent stake in the airline in 2012.
PAL currently operates a fleet of 67 aircraft, with 44 more on order, and serves over 40 international destinations.