Wednesday, 10 June 2009

National carrier to fly in July

Written by Ros Dina and Holly Pham
Wednesday, 10 June 2009

A NEW national carrier scheduled to make its maiden flight July 18 will be a joint venture between the Cambodian government and Vietnam Airlines, a source within the Phnom Penh International Airport told the Post Tuesday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the government would own 51 percent of Cambodia Angkor Air and the state-owned Vietnamese carrier 49 percent.

The airline will initially fly two routes linking Preah Sihanouk province's Kang Keng Airport to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh using a pair of short-haul 72-500 turboprop aircraft from French manufacturer ATR, the official said. He did not disclose how much would be spent on the joint venture, or any other financial details.

A source at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, speaking on condition of anonymity, also confirmed the joint venture was with a Vietnamese airline, but did not specify which carrier.

The news comes after Vietnam Airlines last week signed a $120 million loan package with a consortium of banks to finance the purchase of six 72-500 aircraft from ATR. The contract was signed in December, in addition to five ATR 72-500s already on order, AFP reported last week.

Vietnam Airlines Corp Head of Market Planning Trinh Ngoc Thanh refused to comment when contacted by the Post. He said the airline would release a statement "when it is appropriate".

Ownership of the national carrier is a closely guarded secret. Aom Chenda, an information official at the Council of Ministers, told the Post Tuesday that Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An told a Vietnamese oil company delegation Monday that a new national carrier would make its maiden flight July 18.

He repeated the comment to reporters following the meeting but did not disclose who owned the airline, saying only that it was a local company. He also told the reporters the maiden flight would be July 17, contradicting the earlier statement.

Meanwhile, Mau Havannal, secretary of state at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), said Tuesday said that an "anonymous private local company" was preparing documents to apply to run flights out of Kang Keng Airport but that no official application had been received. "We do not know who owns the national carrier because it has not been named yet," he said.

Chea Aun, director general of the SSCA, confirmed that the "private local company" would use French-made ATR planes.

The planned launch of Cambodia Angkor Air appears to have brought to an end a joint-venture relationship between the government and two Indonesian companies first mooted in November 2003. Sok An signed a memorandum of understanding on the joint-venture carrier with officials from Rajawali Group and PT Ancora International in which the foreign partners would take a 49 percent stake but receive 70 percent of the profits, according to a joint statement at the time.

Rajawali was founded by Indonesian entrepreneur Peter Sondakh, ranked by Globe Asia magazine last year as the 19th wealthiest Indonesian with a net worth of $510 million. The chairman of PT Ancora International, Ith Vichit, was CEO of Cambodia's last national flag carrier, Royal Air Cambodge, which after six years in the air closed in 2001 due to bankruptcy caused by tough competition and mismanagement. A statement released by Rajawali on April 10, 2008, announcing the deal was still going ahead contained no mention of PT Ancora.

The airline was due to have launched in 2008, with Sok An having since drawn heavy criticism from Prime Minister Hun Sen over the delay.

Another domestic carrier, Siem Reap Airways, was banned in November amid concerns over safety standards and financial irregularities. According to a source within the SSCA, the ban came after an audit by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) found the Kingdom in breach of 107 international standards, adding that it would ban all Cambodian airlines if action was not taken.

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