18 Jul 2012
PHNOM PENH- There is very little to say about Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA) beside the fact that most clients probably will even not remember the name of the carrier. Since July 2009, CAA is officially the national carrier of the Kingdom of Cambodia, a carrier born thanks to an agreement setting a joint venture between the Cambodian State (51%) and Vietnam Airlines (49 %). The airline is in reality a proxy of the Vietnamese national carrier Vietnam Airlines. The four aircraft in the fleet –ATR 72 and Airbus A321- come from Vietnam and all the management is Vietnamese. Mr. Trinh Ngoc Thanh, CAA current Chairman and CEO is at the same time Executive Vice President of Vietnam Airlines.
Looking at CAA network, the airline serves only three cities out of Siem Reap: Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Ho Chi Minh City. Despite promising at the beginning to serve more international destinations with one or two years- they were rumours about Bangkok, Singapore and China soon to be added. By mid-2012, the network looks basically the same than in 2010, Sihanoukville excepted. The route serving Cambodia’s largest seaside resort was in fact requested by the government to set up a proper air connection to what is considered as Cambodia’s third largest destination.
Is CAA lacking willingness to raise the Cambodian flag in air transport? CAA offers per month on the Cambodian market 21,652 seats on 354 flights. This is just 12.6% of the total available seats for all airlines serving the Kingdom (the equivalent of 273,860 seats according to IATA SRS Analyser).
The problem might hang to the structure of the carrier itself. As a ‘child’ of another national carrier- and just neighbour-, there is of course very little incentive for Vietnam Airlines to develop its subsidiary into a fully fledged carrier. Better to then let CAA serving as a feeder to Vietnam Airlines’ own hub in Ho Chi Minh City. There is certainly a rational behind this strategy from a strictly financial point of view. Cambodia is too small to certainly have a large airline serving many destinations. But there is definitely a niche for a carrier linking the Cambodian Kingdom to regional destinations. Today Phnom Penh still lacks flights to important cities such as Jakarta or Manila in the ASEAN or even to Tokyo, despite the fact that Japanese tourists are among the top 5 largest incoming markets to the Kingdom.
Cambodia’s national carrier is then probably the only one in Asia not to have been created to serve the needs of its country. The question is now to understand why such an airline has been created… The Kingdom has also two other private Cambodian carriers (Tonle Sap Airways and Skyways Asia Airlines) offering flights to Korea, Taiwan and Mainland China. Merging the three of them would have given to Cambodia a chance to also better market its image. But this will not happen and there is little chance that CAA serves one day the purpose for which it was supposedly created.