Royal Air Cambodge, the national airline, will have no more aircraft as of Tuesday, independent officials confirmed Sunday.
The airline’s joint partner, Malaysia Helicopter Services Berhad, will take back the airline’s only remaining aircraft on Tuesday, officials said.
Royal Air Cambodge is not yet out of business, and leaders of the airline are searching for a new partnership, said Tea Sotha, undersecretary of state of the Civil Aviation Secretariat.
“RAC is looking for a new partnership for investment. Recently, RAC management has been in negotiation with a Chinese company and others for a possible way to re-manage RAC,” he said.
Alhough high-ranking officials within the country’s civil aviation authority were tight-lipped on the possible folding of the airline, six independent sources, including the reservations office in Siem Reap, said the airline will have no more flights after Tuesday.
“I received a phone call from RAC to confirm to me that there will be no more flights from Oct 16,” said Kim Long, a sales officer for VLK Royal Tourism.
“From the 16th, [there are] no more aircraft,” a Siem Reap reservations official said by phone Sunday.
Cabinet Minister Sok An—who has been the acting chairman of Royal Air Cambodge since last year—declined comment Sunday.
When asked last week about a possible new partnership for the airline, Sok An said: “We have not received any news.”
With the loss of RAC’s last plane, tour companies said they would be seeking refunds for any tickets they purchased from the company in advance, along with any other deposits.
“I will meet them [today]. I will need them to return cash for my clients who never used those tickets,” Kim Long said.
Events also left tour agents confused.
“I did not hear about an official closing. But it’s clear there are no flights. We are now asking all the branches of tour agencies to return [RAC] tickets,” said Kim Pheng, a tour operator for KK International Tour.
No capital, poor management policies, frequent flight cancellations and other administrative problems led to the airline’s downfall, said Tui Pakarat Rutten, director of the International Trade Travel and Transport Co.
“Royal Air Cambodge has very poor management, no promotion and marketing, and no clear policy and law,” she said.
“The government needs to inform the service sector of changes,” Tui Pakara Rutten said. “If they don’t, the private sector loses a little bit of money, but the government loses more face.”
The airline has been indebted to aircraft leasing companies in Malaysia and France, as well as to the government. Formed in early 1994 in a joint venture with Singapore Airlines, and later as a joint venture with MHS, Royal Air Cambodge has suffered high profile sell-offs, leadership shifts and embarrassing incidents.
The airline transferred its lucrative airport ground services in March 2000 into a joint partnership with Societe Concessionnaire de l’Aeroport, which is currently upgrading Pochentong Airport. SCA and RAC officials at the time would not discuss the arrangement, but it was reportedly made in return for forgiveness of a portion of RAC’s debt.
In July 2000, the airline suffered its most public embarrassment when a Royal Air Cambodge Boeing 737 ready to carry King Norodom Sihanouk to Beijing began spurting jet fuel out of a tank onto the tarmac.
The King delayed his trip and the chairman of the national carrier was fired. Sok An took over in his place.