Cambodia’s newest airline, Mekong Airlines, scheduled to begin its first flights Monday, has been approved to fly the busy Siem Reap-Bangkok route, in partnership with Thai airline Air Andaman, company officials confirmed on Tuesday, though aviation officials say the route is reserved for two other companies.
That announcement comes just a week after the government denied permission to Royal Phnom Penh Airways to fly the same route, the third time the airline has been turned down.
“I received the same answer [the third time] as the first and second time,” Royal Phnom Penh Airways President Prince Norodom Chakrapong said.
The prince has accused the government of hamstringing local enterprise in violation of its “open skies” policy.
But the Siem Reap-Bangkok route is only open to the Bangkok Airways-affiliated Siem Reap Airways and the national carrier, said Say Sokhan, civil aviation adviser to the Council of Ministers. The national carrier, Royal Air Cambodge, is defunct.
“I don’t think the government has changed this policy,” Say Sokhan said Monday. “I’m sure that no other private airline has been approved to run the Siem Reap-Bangkok route. If one has been approved, that’s against our policy, believe me.”
In fact, Mekong Airlines, which will operate two flights in each direction along the disputed route, got approval to do so through something of a loophole, airline official Anthony Sandford said.
“It’s true that this route is reserved for those two carriers,” Sandford said. “But since Cambodia doesn’t have a national carrier, that slot is open.”
Mekong Airlines has been approved to use the “slot” reserved for the national carrier on an interim basis, Sandford said.
“If the national carrier comes back, we’d have to give it up, but we don’t expect that to happen in the next 12 months or so,” he said.
Over the next year, the company hopes to convince the government to change policy, he said.
Prince Chakrapong said Tuesday he asked to fly the route in the absence of a national carrier, and was denied.
“I am hopeless,” he said, saying he had been treated unfairly.
Mekong Airlines is 49 percent owned by Australia’s Via Aviation and 51 percent by a Cambodian holding company, whose members Sandford would not name.
Next week, the new airline will begin Phnom Penh-Bangkok, Phnom Penh-Siem Reap and Siem Reap-Bangkok services, adding flights between Phnom Penh and Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore at the end of the month.
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