The arrival of Siem Reap Airways at the end of this month will give travelers a reliable domestic service airline that has better equipment and better service than its main competitor, the state-run Royal Air Cambodge, according to both government officials and travel agents.
In addition to Royal Air Cambodge, Siem Reap Airways would also be competing with President Airlines and Royal Phnom Penh Airways. Siem Reap Airways is the only one in that group that is operated by a foreign company, leaving those in the tourism industry wondering how much this new airline will hurt its Cambodian competitors.
“This new airline is beneficial for Cambodia because some airlines we have now have some problems,” said Rumcheck Sovary, deputy general director of the Secretariat for Civil Aviation.
Siem Reap Airways, a subsidiary of Bangkok Airways, announced Tuesday it will begin offering daily flights from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and Phnom Penh to Siem Reap on Oct 29. Travelers will fly on a 70-seat ATR 72-200 aircraft.
A spokeswoman for Bangkok Airways in Bangkok said Wednesday that Siem Reap Airways will operate as an affiliate of Bangkok Airways, which will also manage the new airline.
“Siem Reap Airways is good for the tourism industry, but it’s not good for Cambodia,” said one travel agent at Apsara Tours. “Siem Reap Airways is not a Cambodian airline. It’s owned by foreigners so the revenue will go into the foreigners’ pockets.”
Other travel agents, tired of poor service and canceled flights, said they welcome the new airline.
“Royal Air Cambodge and President sometimes cancel flights, and it’s so inconvenient,” said Tan Sotha of Hanuman Travel. “They run their airline in an old-fashioned style. Bangkok Airways has a good record of flights on time.”
She said she will wait to see how Siem Reap Airways works out, but is confident the airline will be successful because “Bangkok Airways is the most reliable airline operating in Cambodia.”
Royal Air Cambodge has been plagued by budget shortages and equipment problems, causing cancellation of and cutbacks in flights. In August, King Norodom Sihanouk had to cancel a RAC flight to China after the plane was found to be leaking gas on the runway.
That prompted Prime Minister Hun Sen to lash out at the airline and sack Pan Chantra, RAC’s chairman. He was replaced by Sok An, minister of the Council of Ministers, who has said Royal Air Cambodge is due for a major overhaul.
An RAC official who asked not to be named said his airline is a bit worried about how to compete with other airlines, but it will be up to the client to choose which business is the best.
Serey Sopheap of President Airlines, which has also had problems with equipment, said he is not worried because his airline’s service is good now, and the company is working to improve it.
But Catherine Mancera, marketing manager for Diethelm Travel, said the establishment of Siem Reap Airways is good for the tourism industry because Cambodia has been lacking a domestic service airline that has decent aircraft.
“If we go on lacking good aircraft, then we will tell people to just stay in Siem Reap and not go to Phnom Penh,” Mancera said.
She and other travel agents said flights to Siem Reap are already fully booked, and they now have waiting lists.
They said the arrival of Siem Reap Airways will help meet the demand for flights, and the service is coming at just the right time for the peak tourism season, which runs through February.
Soy Sokha, an economic adviser for the Council of Ministers, said Cambodia has a free market, so any airline has a right to establish business here. But he was also quick to defend Royal Air Cambodge, saying it was a safe airline. “I just took Royal Air Cambodge to Siem Reap last week,” he said. “It was comfortable and it wasn’t that noisy.”
(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara)