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Moving from Royal Air Cambodge to Cambodia Angkor Air

Sok Chan / Khmer Times Share:
Tek Reth Samrach, chairman of Cambodia Angkor Air. KT/Chor Sokunthea

National carrier Cambodia Angkor Air is in its ninth year of operation, with an expanded fleet. Tek Reth Samrach, the airline’s chairman, recently spoke to Khmer Times’ Sok Chan about Cambodia Angkor Air’s plans for 2017.
KT: Cambodia Angkor Air seems to be moving ahead. Can you tell us briefly your plans to increase the size of your fleet?
Mr. Samrach: Cambodia Angkor Air, as the national flag carrier, was established in 2009. In October, we signed an agreement with BOC Aviation Limited, a subsidiary of the Bank of China, to lease two new Airbus A320 aircraft as Cambodia gears itself to welcome more international tourists. Due to the increasing number of tourist arrivals year-on-year, Cambodia Angkor Air has to have more aircraft to serve the demand. We now have three A320 aircraft.
This is a great success for Cambodia Angkor Air. By 2020, we hope to have 10 Airbus A320 aircraft in our fleet.
KT: You did mention that in 2017, Cambodia Angkor Air plans to attract one million passengers. Could you say something about this plan?
Mr. Samrach: This plan is in accordance with our market projections. Though the Cambodian aviation market is growing at 10 percent per annum, tourist arrivals are still seasonal. The arrivals peak from October to June, and then there is a slack period from July to September. Because of this, we have to plan carefully.
In 2016, we almost had one million passengers traveling with Cambodia Angkor Air. This year, we hope there will be more than one million passengers traveling with us.
KT: How successful has Cambodia Angkor been for the past seven years?
Mr. Samrach: It’s not easy to run an aviation business and success does not come overnight. Take the example of the previous national carrier Royal Air Cambodge. Royal Air Cambodge became bankrupt in October 2001 and had to be shut down. That was a shock to the local aviation industry. The government had to pick up the pieces to form another national carrier, and in 2009 joined hands with Vietnam Airlines to set up Cambodia Angkor Air.
We have a well thought out business strategy, with the insolvency of Royal Air Cambodge always at the back of our minds. There are four other local airlines serving Cambodia and, so, there is tight competition. We need to be business savvy if we intend to survive long term.
KT: Recently Prime Minister Hun Sen granted three-year multiple-entry visas to tourists from South Korea, Japan and China. Do you think that will have an effect on Cambodia Angkor Air, in the sense that there could be more nationals from these three countries traveling on the airline?
Mr. Samrach: The civil aviation sector in Cambodia depends a lot on foreign tourists traveling within the country. This is unlike Vietnam, Thailand and China where domestic travelers form the bulk of passengers for in-country air travel.
Three-year multiple-entry visas for South Koreans, Japanese and Chinese would certainly benefit Cambodia Angkor Air. This would translate into more tourists from these three countries visiting Cambodia.
This certainly is a move in the right direction.
KT: Now that you have an expanded fleet, what is the frequency of flights to provincial capitals?
Mr. Samrach: In the high season from October to December, we run around 10 flights a day from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. But this varies during the low season from July to September when the passenger load is normally down. Obviously, during this period we won’t have that many flights a day.
KT: Is the plan for Cambodia Angkor Air to fly direct to India materializing?
Mr. Samrach: Currently we have the aircraft ready for the India route. Nonetheless, we still have to do a thorough feasibility study and carry out more promotions. When we are ready, we will launch our service to the Indian sub-continent.
KT: What is your outlook for 2017?
Mr. Samrach: Cambodia Angkor Air will focus on two markets this year – the Chinese and Indian markets. We hope to get more Chinese passengers, with the government’s plan to attract two million Chinese tourists by 2020.
We are also setting our eyes on India. India has a huge domestic aviation market and Angkor Wat in Cambodia is the largest Hindu temple in the world. So we’re trying to connect the dots. Cambodia Angkor Air will fly these Indian passengers to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat for themselves. We hope to get one to two million Indian tourists flying with us.
KT: Cambodia Angkor Air has passed a crucial period for its survival. What was your strategy when it came to steering the company to survive this period?
Mr. Samrach: In the aviation sector, the first three years are crucial – it’s either a make or break period for the airline. During this period we invested a lot in human resources, making sure we had the best in the industry to ensure the survival of the airline and gain public trust.
The next critical period is the fifth to seventh year of operations – that’s when the competition sets in and you have to keep the airline afloat.
We managed to survive for nine years and I think we are safe, now.

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