The Kingdom’s aviation regulator yesterday granted an operator’s licence to Small Planet Airlines, allowing the Lithuanian-based leisure airline to operate flights from its new regional hub in Cambodia, civil aviation officials said.
“We granted an AOC [air operator’s certificate] to Small Planet Airlines to operate a commercial airline,” said Sinn Chanserey Vutha, spokesman of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA). “The AOC covers the technical [aspects] of operations but they will need additional permits for the routes they intend to fly.”
Small Planet Airlines began operations in 2009 and primarily operates charter flights from the hubs of its European subsidiaries in Lithuania, Poland and Germany to coastal resorts in the Mediterranean region.
The company also generates revenue by wet leasing some of its fleet – comprising 18 Airbus A320 and four A321 aircraft – to other airlines during the European winter low season.
Erikas Zubrus, CEO of Small Planet Airlines Cambodia, said the airline’s expansion into Asia was driven by the desire to redirect some of its operations to areas that have inverse seasonality to Europe.
“Part of the business model is to take advantage of seasonal traffic,” he said.
Small Planet Airlines had previously said that it intends to launch Cambodian operations with two aircraft based in Siem Reap geared for charter flights to China and South Korea. Zubrus, however, said the airline had not yet locked in its initial fleet and route plans, though he hoped flight operations would begin “before the next winter season, which is the peak travel period for Cambodia”.
He added that both charter and scheduled flights were under consideration, as well as the possibility of leasing aircraft to other local carriers on a seasonal basis.
A deal announced in September 2015 that would have seen Small Planet Airlines lease four of its A320s to Sky Angkor Air during the winter season fell through. No other leasing arrangements have been made, Zubrus said, while indicating that the airline could pursue leasing deals to unlock “mutual commercial benefits”.
Small Planet Airlines had initially hoped to establish an Asian hub in Thailand, but turned to Cambodia after the Thai regulator rejected its application for an AOC.
Zubrus did not rule out the possibility that the airline could still look to establish a Thai hub. However, he said Thailand’s aviation sector has been closed to new entrants since the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) flagged it following a safety audit in 2015.
“Thailand’s aviation sector was red-flagged by ICAO and cannot issue any new AOCs until it rectifies [various safety] issues,” he said.