K AMPUCHEA Airline's chairman Prince Sisowath Chivan Monirak dropped some broad hints about imminent big upheavals in the Cambodian airline industry in an interview with the Post.
He confirmed the airline would soon be renamed Royal Air Cambodge in a major restructuring and its partnership with SK Air would terminate on Jan 31 next year. SK Air would then be unable to operate using Cambodia's allocation of seats in bilateral international air service agreements and would then be faced with the choice of finding another country to fly from or dissolving itself. The Thai-owned airline only has a solitary Boeing 737 leased from Thai International.
Prince Chivan Monirak however was more evasive about the fate of Cambodia International Airlines in the shake-up. At the least CIA, another Thai-owned independent, would have to be renamed, he said. CIA would also be likely to lose two-thirds of its seat allocation to Hong Kong, the prince said and hinted that it might be asked to cease operations altogether from Khmer soil.
"It is 100 percent sure that Royal Air Cambodge is going to operate sooner than we expect. It is going to be a private company, though there will not be any shareholders," said Prince Chivan Monirak. He added that he expected to make a full announcement on the shape of the new airline by the end of October.
The former fighter pilot said he signed a six-month extension of KA's agreement with SK Air on August 19. SK Air operates to Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.
But he added: "The end of the relationship between KA and SK will perhaps transpire on Jan 31."
The prince said KA's transformation might not take place overnight, with initially only some of its fleet of ageing Russian planes being repainted in the new RAC livery.
"When RAC is going to be born, somehow KA is still alive and at one point we have two Cambodian airlines co-existing," he said.
The Prince refused to be drawn on speculation that Malaysia Airlines would join in the RAC venture.
He has asked the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) to notify CIA that its name had to be changed within 30-45 days of the formation of the new RAC.
"I have made a request that under no circumstances can another airline operate under the name Cambodia, Khmer, Kampuchea or Cambodge, which leads to confusion," said Prince Chivan Monirak.
He refused to say whether CIA would be asked to cease operating from Khmer soil altogether saying, "it depends, there's a lot of elements, it is too early to answer." But he added that a letter signed by the Cambodian Council of Ministers in February grounding CIA prior to the take-off of RAC was still in effect.
Internationally Bangkok, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur would be the top priorities for RAC, said the Prince. He explained he had also asked the DCA to switch 200 of the 300 seats allocated under the bilateral air service agreement from CIA to RAC.
CIA's Assistant Managing Director Jimmy Gao declined to comment about the airline's future with the formation of RAC.
But he "welcomed" KA to share the Hong Kong route. He said: "We can make a special arrangement to share the market."
- KA is to take delivery of the first of two brand-new ATR-72s on October 26, with flights to Siem Reap increasing from four to five a day. The move follows the expiry of the lease on the ATR-72 currently with the airline. The extra aircraft will be used to cover the increased flight frequency in the high tourist season for Siem Reap, the gateway to the Angkor temple complex. It may also be used on the Battambang route.
- CIA was poised to take delivery of a reconditioned Boeing 727 as the Post went to press. The new aircraft will be used to cover for CIA's Boeing 737 in the event of mechanical trouble and to run charter flights to holiday destinations in Thailand and Malaysia and to southern Chinese cities. The 727 also puts CIA in range of Tokyo, a route it has been eyeing.