Weeks after announcing the formation of his own royalist splinter party, Prince Norodom Chakrapong has taken aim at the government, accusing it of blocking the growth of his business, Royal Phnom Penh Airways.
“I am very disappointed and saddened by the government’s investment policy,” the prince said at his office last week.
In 2000, Royal Phnom Penh requested permission to fly routes from Siem Reap to Bangkok and Siem Reap to Preah Vihear. The first is now run exclusively by Bangkok Airways, which runs five flights a day; the second would be a new route.
But the prince, who is president of the airline, has yet to receive approval.
“There is a monopoly in the airline industry in this country,” he said, referring to Bangkok Airways. “I’ve been waiting for this decision for two years. Maybe I will have to wait an entire life.”
“Angkor Wat belongs to the Khmers. Why we have no right to do this, I don’t understand,” he added. “I am totally hopeless.”
But Soy Sokhan, economic adviser to Minister of Cabinet Sok An in charge of the airline sector, said the government will review the proposals again. The proposals will be accepted if they benefit the country, he said.
The prince said his company has offered to renovate the airport at Preah Vihear to a standard similar to the airport in Ratanakkiri. The Preah Vihear airport has a packed-dirt, military-built runway at the provincial capital, Tbeng Meanchey, that already can handle his airline’s three 52-seat Y7 aircraft, he said.
“I think it would cost $200,000 to $300,000 [to renovate],” he said. “It will be cheaper than building a road from Siem Reap to Preah Vihear.”
Increasing tourism at Preah Vihear would help combat poverty by increasing tourism and reducing the province’s isolation, he said. The flight from Siem Reap could take as little as 45 minutes.
The government has singled out Ratanakkiri, Preah Vihear and Koh Kong as tourism areas to develop, Soy Sokhan said. Ratanakkiri is the first priority, he said. “For Preah Vihear, the government will require advice from the Ministry of Tourism and the Civil Aviation secretariat,” he said.
Phnom Penh Municipality Chea Sophara, who is helping to build a road from Tbeng Meanchey to the Preah Vihear temples at the Thai border, said an air route would be a good idea.
“If they can make it so an airplane can land by spending just a small amount of money, it will be OK,” he said. But the idea would require a government study, he added.
The airport renovation proposal has received the support of Meoung Sonn, president of the National Association of Tourism Enterprise. The idea would develop a rural area and increase government revenues, he said.
On the Siem Reap to Bangkok route, competition would be good for consumers, he said.
Royal Air Cambodge and Bangkok Airways were the only two airlines to receive approval to fly the Siem Reap to Bangkok route, but Royal Air Cambodge suspended all operations in October 2001 without making an international flight from Siem Reap.
“Without competitors, Bangkok Airways has increased its ticket prices 15 percent after the national carrier, Royal Air Cambodge, closed its operations,” Meoung Sonn said.
Thong Khon, secretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism, said opening the Preah Vihear route was mainly a technical matter of upgrading runways and air control systems. “The airline has to ensure that passengers will be safe,” he said.