Sihanoukville Airport Opens To Airlines

Sihanoukville’s Kang Keng airport reopened for business Mon­day morning and resumed its first scheduled commercial flight service since the early 1980s, officials said.

Kang Keng’s first arrival—a plane operated by Progress Multitrade Co, better known as PMT Air—landed at 10:20 am carrying 11 government officials travelling from Siem Reap International Airport, the airline’s director Sar Sareth said.

Khek Norinda, spokesman for the airport’s operator, Societe Concessionaire des Aeroports, said the arrival of the 50-seater PMT plane demonstrated that the airport was now operational.

Kao Siveoun, director of operations for the Secretariat of Civil Aviation, said the Sihanoukville airport is currently capable of handling smaller aircraft operated by domestic carriers.

“The airport has everything, including good air traffic control and navigation equipment,” he said.

Malaysian budget carrier Air Asia has shown interest in flying routes to Sihanoukville, but international flights are not yet possible because the runway is too short, Kao Siveoun said.

International service will be feasible in about six months after the airport extends its runways from 1,800 meters to 2,200 meters, he said.

SCA hopes that runway expansion will also make it possible to land much larger Boeing 737s, Kek Norinda said.

SCA, a French firm which also runs Siem Reap and Phnom Penh International Airports, was granted the concession to run Kang Keng early last year after the government dropped Ariston, a Malaysian company that had promised but failed to renovate the airport.

Sihanoukville Governor Say Hak stressed the convenient location of the airport, saying it was only a 15-minute drive from the beach.

Sihanoukville must to do more to improve services for foreign visitors, Say Hak said, though he still expects the airport to produce a tourist boom.

PMT Air will operate three flights a week between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, though a final decision has not yet been made on ticket prices, Sar Sareth said.

PMT Air is best known for its flights from Phnom Penh to Ratanakkiri province, a route on which the company has had occasional mishaps.

In November 2005, two people were injured when a PMT-chartered, Chinese-made aircraft own­ed by the now-defunct Royal Phnom Penh Airways skidded off Banlung’s gravel runway.

The following month, the UN banned its employees from flying with PMT, citing what it called an unacceptable safety record.

PMT Air also experienced difficulties in May 2006, when civil aviation authorities issued a warning to the company for failing to report a mid-flight engine failure—which forced the plane to return to Phnom Penh—within 24 hours.

PMT Air suspended flights to Ratanakkiri in July 2006 citing poor weather conditions and a lack of demand. It resumed regular flights in November, but announced a significant ticket hike and two-tier pricing, which saw non-Cambo­dian passengers charged significantly more than locals.

Sar Sareth said that his planes are risk free, and that he is planning to import new aircraft.

“My airplane is safe to fly,” he said.

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