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After Long Void, Cambodia Launches Airline

Cambodia Angkor Air, a joint venture between Vietnam’s state-owned airline and Cambodia, made its first commercial flight Monday, in what government officials hope will be a boost to tourism and the economy.

The new carrier fills an eight-year absence, following the bankruptcy of Royal Air Cambodge, which folded in October 2001 owing more than $33 million to creditors.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said at a ceremony Sunday that Angkor Air was part of Cambodia’s open-sky strategy, providing air transport for Cambodians and a boon to tourism.

“The success of a Cambodian national airline will bring national pride and help develop the tourism sector, which is a force of economic growth,” said Hun Sen, who was accompanied by Vietnamese Deputy Prime minister Truong Vinh Trong.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said the new airline would increase the number of visitors to the famed temples of Angkor Wat, which have seen a decline in numbers in the wake of the global economic crisis.

With an investment of $100 million, Angkor Air has a pair of ATR 72-500 aircraft that will fly three routes, linking Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City.

Mao Havannal, secretary of state for the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, said the airline will start with 32 flights per week between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and 14 flights per week between Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City.

Phan Ngoc Minh, an executive for Vietnam Airlines, said another Airbus will be transferred to Cambodia in early September 2009. Within a year, the airline will have eight planes, he said.

Angkor Air is entering a market that has seen a number of failures in the past 15 years, with bankruptcy hitting Royal Phnom Penh Airways, Kampuchea Airlines, Angkor Airways and Royal Air Cambodge.

There are currently 10 different airlines linking Cambodia to international destinations.

Phan said the new national carrier will become a strong competitor.

“I do believe Cambodia Angkor Air will soon become strong and solid enough to support Cambodia’s aviation industry, to support development and benefit for the Royal Government of Cambodia,” he said.

The new airline will also have to contend with an industry that has been marred by safety concerns, following several crashes that have killed a total of 80 people in recent years.

Mao Havannal said Angkor Air was indeed safe.