Two new Cambodian airlines are set to launch early next year, pending approval of their applications for operation, the government announced yesterday, raising the possibility of direct flights to Sihanoukville, a route long-coveted by tourism experts.
Mao Havanall, secretary of state at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, told the National Assembly yesterday the applications would soon be approved, with service beginning early next year though so far destinations were not definite.
“We will approve two local airline companies. They will start their business early next year,” he said during a debate over an Asean agreement to improve air travel and services between the countries.
Outside the Assembly session, he said later that airlines had plans to buy mid-sized aircraft such as the Airbus A320. “They will purchase planes and start their flights. They are brand new domestic airlines.”
Khek Norinda, communications and marketing manager for Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports, which operates Cambodia’s airports, identified the airlines as Tonle Sap Airlines and Skywings Asia Airlines, both of which would be based in Siem Reap province.
For the schedule from March to October, Tonle Sap plans to fly routes between Siem Reap and Taipei, Incheon, South Korea and Sihanoukville, while Skywings has plans for flights from Siem Reap to Incheon and Hanoi he wrote in an email.
“If the talks should materialize, it would be an additional sign of the recovery of the air transport industry in Cambodia,” he said.
Air travel, which tourism experts say brings tourists who are likely to spend more money, increased 17.23 percent in the first 11 months of the year compared to the same period in 2009, according to the Tourism Ministry.
A delegation from the United Arab Emirates visited Cambodia last week to discuss direct flights. Air France also plans to start flights to in March.
The new airlines would join the country’s national carrier, Cambodia Angkor Air, which has previously said it had no immediate plans for flights to Sihanoukville due to a lack of demand.
Still, it was unclear exactly where the new airlines would fly if approved.
Skywings Asia Airlines is a venture of the Greek charter airline Skywings and could begin flights to Incheon as well as Hanoi as early as next month, said Skywings Asia Airlines managing director Steve Kim, adding that until the airline received approvals the plans were only tentative.
“It depends on every country’s civil aviation authority,” he said.
The company would consider flights to Sihanoukville but he said most of the company’s customers would be South Koreans interested in high-end resorts only of which exist in Sihanoukville.
Bill Chen, the Chief Financial Officer for Tonle Sap Airlines, declined to comment and said the company’s CEO was not available. But the company’s website claims the airline will begin flights on Jan 1 and mentions several cities as potential destinations including Hanoi, Luang Prabang and Pattaya.
Tourism experts say new domestic airlines would boost tourism, and if they create domestic flights they would reduce airfares within the country and open up more locations for development. In particular, they say flights to Sihanoukville would spawn demand for the Cambodian coast where experts say growth is stunted because of lack of air routes.
Sihanouk International Airport opened in 2009 but so far has not attracted any scheduled flights.
“Tourists come to visit Siem Reap and they are interested in Sihanoukville but if we don’t have air routes from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, they will have to take 10 hour bus trip. But an airline can do it in a half hour,” said Ho Vandy, co-chair of a working group tourism policy. Many tourists just opt to fly to Vietnam or Thailand’s coast.
He expressed some doubt about the certainty of their arrivals as he had heard of the two airlines more than a year ago.
“If it will happen, we are very happy, but if we just hear and nothing happened this is what we are worried about,” he said, adding the competition could lower airfares of Cambodia Angkor Air.
Chay Chun, country manager for Silk Air, said more domestic flights could attract more tourists and more international airlines, benefiting the whole industry.
“If you have more domestic tours flying within the country it will help us sell Cambodia,” he said.
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