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Travel dip means no planes at Sihanoukville

Travel dip means no planes at Sihanoukville

SIEM REAP
SIHANOUKVILLE airport is still struggling to attract airlines due to the enduring slump in the regional travel industry, according to an official at Societe Concessionaire des Aeroports (SCA), the French firm that manages the Kingdom’s airports.

Still, not a single airline has agreed to flights to the airport despite the offer of zero percent airport tax.

SCA’s Chief Planning Officer Tanguy Bertolus said Tuesday that new national carrier Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA), a joint venture between the government and Vietnam Airlines, was showing reluctance to fly to the recently renovated airport due to the difficult economic climate.

“Cambodia Angkor is a subsidiary of Vietnam Airlines and the Cambodian government, and they are not really keen right now to take risks and open new lines,” he said.

“But it is the case for every airline in the world right now that is trying to recover from the economic crisis.”

CAA was supposed to take off from Sihanoukville for its inaugural flight on July 28, but the venue was switched to Phnom Penh at the last minute.

At the time Mao Havannal, secretary of state at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), said that SCA was hoping to persuade French President Nicolas Sarkozy to attend the airport opening, which has still not occurred.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said in December that CAA had – after less than five months of operations – already started to turn a profit during a year in which air arrivals to the Kingdom fell more than 10 percent, according to Ministry of Tourism data.

CAA has noy yet published a financial report, but Soy Sokhan, the SSCA undersecretary in charge of the airline, said in December that it had increased load factors to between 80 and 90 percent at the time, from as low as 25 percent following its debut.

SCA has reported holding talks with various airlines – including CAA – and remains optimistic that a recent upswing in air traffic would lead to flights to Sihanoukville.

“[Tourism] traffic is coming in again.... we are optimistic, but it is the end of the high season right now, so we have to see how the low season goes,” said Bertolus.

Ministry of Tourism figures showed that air arrivals to the Kingdom rose an annualised 4.75 percent in January, a sign that the industry may be recovering.

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