Hun Sen Decision Clouds Open-Skies Policy

Despite his open-skies policy, Prime Minister Hun Sen has issued an official notice that only Bangkok Airways and Royal Air Cambodge have exclusive rights to fly the lucrative Bangkok-Siem Reap route, according to a senior civil aviation official and an RAC official.

Keo Sophal, undersecretary of state for Civil Aviation, said the premier decided two months ago to limit flight operation rights to the two airlines.

Royal Phnom Penh Airways has been seeking the government’s permission to make the Bangkok-Siem Reap run.

“I don’t know why Prime Min­ister Hun Sen decided to allow only two companies to fly that route,” Keo Sophal said.

Royal Phnom Penh Airways has sought an operating license for the Bangkok-Siem Reap route for five months, but has been refused by the government, said owner Prince Norodom Chak­rapong. He recently expanded his aviation business from domestic to international flights by adding a new route between Phnom Penh and Bangkok.

“I am a Cambodian, so the op­eration rights for Bangkok-Siem Reap route should be given to me,” Prince Chakrapong said. “It should not be given only to foreigners.”

According to the State Sec­retariat for Civil Aviation, four airlines are now operating direct international flights to Siem Reap: Bangkok Airways and RAC from Bangkok, Silk Air from Singapore and Vietnam Airlines from Ho Chi Minh City.

Bangkok Airways and RAC were originally allowed to operate that route early in 1998 on a temporary basis as the government tried to boost tourist travel to Siem Reap, which dropped off after the 1997 factional fighting.

Hun Sen adopted the open-skies policy late last year to encourage more tourists to visit Siem Reap. Tourism is considered by many to be one of driving forces behind the country’s economic growth.

Since the open-skies policy was implemented, Silk Air and Viet­nam Airlines have launched direct flights to Siem Reap.

Meanwhile, RAC, which had abandoned a direct Bangkok-Siem Reap service that was losing money, resumed a regular five-time weekly flight schedule in October, said Thach Ouk, the airline’s commercial director.

“We also received Hun Sen’s letter limiting the flights on the route to the two airlines,” he said.

Kong Sambath, Royal Phnom Penh Airways’ commercial and marketing director, said the government should encourage more direct flights to Siem Reap from Bangkok.

“If more airlines fly the Bang­kok-Siem Reap route, the market will be more competitive and airfare will be cheaper,” he said.

But Keo Sophal said it is up to the Council of Ministers.

“We do not refuse it,” he said, “but it is the government’s re­sponsibility.”

(Additional reporting by Yuko Maeda)



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