Airline Suspends All Flights

Mekong Airlines indefinitely suspended all flights this week as severe acute respiratory syndrome fears have devastated passenger numbers, airline officials said Thursday.

“We’re trying our best to get through SARS. We battled longer than we should have—if you cancel one aircraft, you cancel your whole airline,” a Mekong Airlines spokesman said.

The airline suspended on May 13 the 33 weekly flights its sole Boeing 737-500 was making be­tween Cambodia and Hong Kong, Malaysia and Kuala Lum­pur, Chief Operating Officer Anthony Sanford said. At least 150 reserved tickets will be reimbursed or transferred to other airlines, he said.

Meng Hieng, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agencies, said Thursday that no official passenger complaints had been lodged due to the cancellations.

Dragonair now is the only airline flying between Hong Kong and Phnom Penh, running twice weekly flights on Tuesday and Satur­day, manager Alfred Sung said.

Dragonair will consider offering travel promotions to boost sales should the World Health Organi­zation issue a statement of confidence concerning the presence of SARS in the region, Sung said.

Mekong Airlines President Heath Shen said the reimbursement of canceled tickets could draw the airline precariously close to debt. Shen said he hopes to resume flights by the end of June. He would not specify which airline could help or how much mo­ney was needed to resume normal operations.

The economic stress imposed  on the airline by SARS has been exacerbated by high operating costs, Sanford said, noting that it costs twice as much to run an airline in Cambodia than it does in Vietnam and Thailand.

Airline officials asked the Cam­bodia Airport Management Ser­vices to cut operating fees and taxes, to no avail.

Airline officials said Thursday that they plan to write a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen within the next few weeks requesting economic assistance through CAMS.

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