A drop in the number of passengers—perhaps due to easier overland travel—has caused two domestic airlines to halt service between Phnom Penh and Battambang, industry and government officials said Monday.
President Airlines stopped flying to Battambang in November, and Royal Phnom Penh Airlines stopped regular service to the city in October, although it has been making about one private flight a month, airline officials said Monday.
Second Deputy Governor for Battambang Pa Socheatevong attributed the decline in ticket sales to consumers directing their money elsewhere, such as travel to places like Siem Reap.
He said those who do want to visit Battambang have been traveling overland because the renovated National Route 5 is now smooth and the journey by car or taxi is a lot cheaper than flying. The cost to take a bus from Phnom Penh to Battambang is about $5 one way, while airlines were charging about $50 for the same trip.
“I often take the trip from Phnom Penh by car instead of flying—and when I take the bus it is only $4,” said Battambang resident Un San Oan.
“I have seen no airline activity since the national road renovation was completed and found that even foreigners who work for NGOs also come here by car,” Un San Oan said.
Pa Socheatevong said that, these days, he “would not feel comfortable paying $50 to fly with a very old airline.”
President Airlines’ marketing manager, Deny Gungoro, agreed that more people are willing to travel overland than fly between the two cities.
“I think our airline will [permanently] stop all flights on this route unless the conditions get better,” she said.
Prince Norodom Chakrapong, president of Royal Phnom Penh Airways, said the airline cannot lower the price of its flights between Phnom Penh and Battambang because then it would not be able to cover airport service costs.
The two airlines owe almost
$1 million in landing taxes, said Battambang airport Director Prum Chantha. The airport has been losing $15,000 a month since October, he said.
Airline companies in Cambodia pay high taxes on airport services and gasoline, much more than in Vietnam and Thailand. Unless the government lowers the taxes, airlines will not be able to operate when business slows, said Kao Sivoeun, director of operations for the State Secretariat for Civil Aviation.
Before Route 5 was renovated, airlines carried about 60 passengers on each flight, said Oeun Sarun, chief of Immigration Police at Battambang airport. In October, as few as five people arrived on each flight, he said.
Prum Chantha did not agree that the decline in airline passengers had to do with improvements in overland travel. He attributed the problem to the lack of trade and investment in Battambang.
Pa Socheatevong said one solution would be to attract more people to Battambang by promoting the city as a tourist destination. He suggested package tours that would involve flights from Siem Reap to Battambang to Phnom Penh.