New Airline Makes First Flight Today

First Cambodia Airlines is scheduled to make its debut flight today when its single French-made Airbus 320 takes off for Singapore, said George Kwok, the company’s chief executive officer, late Monday.

The company’s top two shareholders—Okhna Sour Pheng, who owns the Hong Kong Cen­ter, and Hun Mana, Prime Mini­ster Hun Sen’s 23-year-old daughter, together own 51 percent of the new airline, according to Kwok—gathered with government officials at First Cambodia’s official launch Monday night at the Sunway Hotel.

Partners in Hong Kong and China own the remaining 49 percent of the company’s shares, Kwok said.

Hun Mana is married to Meoung Kompheak, the son of Major General Meoung Samphan, the powerful director general of the Ministry of Defense’s department of logistics and finance. Meoung Kompheak is reported to have interests in other businesses in Phnom Penh.

On Monday night, Hun Mana smiled as reporters gathered to ask her questions, but declined to answer many. She said that she is happy with her investment “so far” and deferred all other questions to Sour Pheng.

Sour Pheng declined to give details on his partnership with Hun Mana, but said that it was “not precise” that the two of them own the majority of the company. He did not elaborate.

“I think we would like to play our part in contributing ourselves to our country’s tourism [industry],” Sour Pheng said. “And I think we will only have to try and continue trying.”

Hun Mana is not the first member of the prime minister’s family to invest in airlines.

Hun Sen’s niece Hun Kim Leng, the daughter of Svay Rieng provincial Governor Hun Neng and wife of Deputy Director General of National Police Neth Savoeun, was a shareholder of Mekong Airlines before it was sold to Malaysian entrepreneurs in July after accumulating thousands of dollars in debt.

Mekong Airlines officials expected flights to resume by last October, but called off the reopening, citing the slow rebound of the industry from the effects of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The primary capital investment for First Cambodian Airlines was $2.5 million, said Kwok, and investors have committed an additional $5 million for the long term.

First Cambodia now offers regular flights to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Guangzhou, China. Though it only has one airplane right now, Kwok said it plans to have three or four by the end of the year.

The company holds the rights to fly to Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap, and is currently trying to form partnerships with travel agents and airlines in order to add more flights. For now, the company appears to be focusing its efforts on flights to China.

“We are very keen on China,” Kwok said. “We definitely want to bring the people of China here. I think in terms of the tourism industry and the relationship between the two countries, the airline is very important.”

Though airlines offer direct flights from Phnom Penh to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the government is still working on establishing direct flights from here to Beijing.

Around 10 international airlines fly into Cambodia, mostly drawn by the government’s open skies policy that allows airline companies to ferry passengers direct to Siem Reap airport without having to stop in the capital Phnom Penh.

Cambodia does not have a national airline since the country’s carriers, Royal Air Cambodge, which was chaired by Minister of Cabinet Sok An, halted flights in 2001.

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