New Cambodian National Airline Launched

After nearly eight years without one, Cambodia’s new national air carrier was officially launched Sunday with speeches by Prime Minister Hun Sen and Vietnam’s deputy prime minister, Truong Vinh Trong.

The airline, a joint project be­tween the Cambodia government—which has a 51 percent share—and Vietnam Airlines, will receive a total of $100 million in initial investment and will officially start operating commercial flights today, officials said.

“The success of Cambodia’s national airline will bring about a sense of national pride,” said Mr Hun Sen, during his speech, add­ing that the venture would be a “pillar of growth” for the Cam­bodian economy.

The prime minister urged the staff of the new carrier to pay specific attention to the daily operations of the airline, especially in its compliance with international safety regulations.

He also thanked the Vietnamese government for their cooperation in helping the Cambodian government to realize its long awaited dream of a national airline.

The launch of a Cambodian na­tional airline has been a long time in coming.

In 2001, national carrier Royal Air Cambodge shut down after losing more than $25 million and experiencing an embarrassing moment when one of its flights carrying then-King Norodom Sihanouk was delayed due to company employees spilling petrol over the runway.

Then, in 2007, after Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed his frustration at the country’s lack of a national carrier, a turnaround-deal was signed with the Indonesian conglomerate Rajawali Group with operations due to commence in mid-2008. But when the economic downturn hit Asia they withdrew their financing and the government was back at square one again.

According to Pham Ngoc Minh, executive director of Vietnam Airlines, Cambodia Angkor Air will initially have a fleet of three aircraft – two French-Italian-made ATR 72s and one Airbus A312. However, the company hopes to increase its fleet to 10 by 2015.

Mr Pham said he aimed at providing “strong, solid support” for the development of Cambodia and ensured the Cambodian government that his company would help train the staff for the new carrier.

Cabinet Minister Sok An, whose efforts to create a new national carrier have previously been criticized by the prime minister for taking too long, said he hoped the new carrier would help economic growth in Cambodia and praised the friendly cooperation between the government and Vietnam.

Also present at the launch was Vietnam Deputy Prime Minister Truong Vinh Trong, who said the joint effort to launch Cambodia’s national carrier would “open doors to future cooperation” between the two countries. He predicted that bilateral investment between Cambodia and Vietnam would rise to $6.4 billion by 2020, up from $2 billion today.

Indeed, the slump in visitor arrivals – which is down 1 percent for the first 6 months of this year according to Minister of Tourism Thong Khon – is one of the major reasons the government has pushed for the launch of its national carrier.

“At the present moment we need more access so we can get tourists traveling between Sihanoukville and Siem Reap,” said Thong Khon, adding that the government’s current policy was to help stimulate domestic tourism and take advantage of the thousands of cruise-ship holidaymakers arriving at the port in Sihanoukville every month.

When asked why it has taken nearly eight years to get the national carrier of the ground, Mr Khon said, “this is a new project. Nothing to do with Royal Air Cambodge.”

Nevertheless the launch comes at a time when the airline industry, particularly in Asia, is feeling the effects of the global economic crisis.

Bangkok Airways recently cancelled an order for an ATR 72 and has delayed the delivery of its Airbus aircraft until March 2011.

In June, the International Air Transport Association predicted that airlines in the Asia-Pacific region are expected to post the largest losses worldwide – $3.3 billion this year, compared to a $1 billion loss for North American airlines and a $1.8 billion for European airlines.

But with the International Civil Aviation Organization predicting a 3.6 percent growth rate for the region in 2010, the launch could well be a timely one.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the government-private sector tourism working group, said that although the new airline would become a “priority” airline, the government was operating under a pro-competition, open sky policy.

The airline’s success “will depend on the reliable price for the client,” he said. “Everyone knows this year and next year will be tough, but if we don’t start today how can we make results tomorrow?”

Cambodia Angkor Air will fly between Phnom Penh, Sihanouk­ville and Siem Reap as well as offering flights from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City.


Related Stories

Latest News