Khmer Times’ Sok Chan sat down with Sinn Chansereyvutha, spokesman for the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), to talk about achievements of the SSCA in 2016, its current situation and the outlook for Cambodia’s civil aviation sector in 2017.
KT: Can you tell us what were the achievements of the SSCA in 2016?
Mr. Chansereyvutha: Last year was a good one for the SSCA. In October 2016, the frequency of local flights increased by 22 percent compared with the same period in 2015. Also international flights went up by nine percent in the third quarter of 2016, compared with the same period the previous year.
In terms of domestic travel, close to 500,000 Cambodians last year took local flights and this was a 13 percent increase compared with 2015. For commercial air cargo, we had a 67 percent increase in 2016, compared with 2015.
KT: Cambodia fared poorly in the audits by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2007 and 2009. Could you tell us the result of last year’s ICAO audit?
Mr. Chansereyvutha: We welcome the ICAO audits because Cambodia is a party to the UN International Civil Aviation Convention. It’s our obligation to pave the way, every four or five years, for an ICAO audit of our airports. The ICAO audit entails a comprehensive check of the safety standards of our airports and they also focus on our aviation laws and regulations, airport infrastructure, operations and licensing, and the qualifications and competence of pilots, mechanics and flight attendants.
Last year’s ICAO audit took about 10 days and the final result will be released in the next three months. In general, the briefing report was good because we were prepared this time. We have a structured work organization and our workplace and human resources are better than before. But it does not mean that we are perfect, we still have problems. We don’t have significant safety concerns but we have some problems that need to be resolved.
The audit team recommended improvements to human resources in some work sections. Also, they wanted to see better teamwork, systematic document management and better human resource training.
KT: What is the SSCA’s response to the 2016 audit?
Mr. Chansereyvutha: We can fulfill most of the ICAO’s recommendations. Most urgently, we need to tackle the issue of better internal communications and coordination, and systematic document management. These issues will be resolved when we have better software in our systems that will also help audit local airline companies. This software will alert us if they [local airlines] compromise their safety requirements.
KT: What were the highlights of the 2016 ICAO audit, and how would they help the kingdom’s aviation sector?
Mr. Chansereyvutha: The 2016 ICAO audit report will upgrade the prestige of Cambodian airports internationally. There are no significant safety concerns and the audit report shows we can comply with international aviation rules. And due to our compliance with international safety standards, we hope to attract more tourists.
KT: There are a significant number of Chinese airlines operating direct flights to Cambodia. The government, too, is keen to attract two million Chinese tourists to Cambodia by 2020. Also, travelers from South Korea, Japan and China can apply for a three-year multiple-entry visa – if they so desire. What is your take on this?
Mr. Chansereyvutha: Now we have 10 Chinese airlines operating direct flights to Cambodia. This year, we could see another three Chinese airlines flying direct to the kingdom. Of course, this is good. It will help the government realize its dream of two million Chinese tourists by 2020.
We support the multiple-entry visa scheme for travelers from South Korea, Japan and China. This is part of the strategy of the Ministry of Tourism to attract more tourists from these countries. Though we might lose on the visa fees, we will, however, gain from the amount spent by these tourists in the country. For example, we might lose $20 million in visa fees. But, on the other hand, we can gain more that $300 million if each tourist spends about $110 for five days. If the tourists don’t come, we will not have this money.
KT: Can you shed some light on direct flights to Cambodia, from Indonesia and the Philippines?
Mr. Chansereyvutha: Our role is to open new routes and we have negotiated with Indonesia and the Philippines. The main problem is the passenger load for direct flights. It is more economically feasible for airlines from these countries to go into a codeshare with other airlines flying into Cambodia. Take for instance Indonesia’s national flag carrier, Garuda. It has entered into a code-sharing agreement with Bangkok Airways for passengers flying from Jakarta to Phnom Penh – since Garuda also flies to Thailand.
KT: Are there plans to build a second airport in Phnom Penh?
Mr. Chansereyvutha: The government has a vision to build a second airport to ease the congestion at Pochentong. But it’s not happening anytime soon.
Though our current airport could be congested if several flights land at the same time, our airport services can still cope with the arrivals. On the other hand, the problem is outside the airport – with traffic jams caused by arriving passengers traveling into the city in taxis or private vehicles. Presently, our airports can handle seven million passenger arrivals in the next 10 years.
Our concern is in Siem Reap, where planes cannot fly over Angkor Wat. We might have to build a second airport in the province if tourist arrivals continue to increase.
KT: What then is the current status for Siem Reap airport?
Mr. Chansereyvutha: The initial investors were South Koreans. The investment later was sold to a Chinese company. The Chinese have a 55-year concession to run Siem Reap airport. I cannot go into further details.
KT: What can you tell us about plans, as reported in the media, of an international airport to be built at the Dara Sakor Seashore Resort in Koh Kong province? Media reports indicate that the airport will be able to handle 10 million passengers annually and service planes as large as an Airbus 380.
Mr. Chansereyvutha: The [Chinese] company received approval from the government to invest in the airport but construction has not started yet. The company is trying to find an investment partner. This international airport is for private jets coming to the resort. The company contacted us before clearing the land [to lay the tarmac].
KT: What is your outlook for 2017?
Mr. Chansereyvutha: We are in Asean and hopefully in 2017 we can see progress in the Asean Open Skies agreement. An Asean Single Aviation Agreement will boost the connectivity of the regional grouping by easing the flow of goods and services and greatly facilitating tourism.
Together, all Asean countries can overcome barriers for this to happen. One important barrier to overcome is infrastructure.
On the ground, it is runways to cope with increased air traffic. The other is airside – which means better air traffic control across all Asean countries.