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Mekong Airlines kick-start

Old 20th Jan 2003, 16:36
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Mekong Airlines kick-start

Mon "The Courier Mail"

Mekong Airlines kick-start
By Kimina Lyall
20jan03

THE first plane belonging to Asia's newest carrier, Mekong Airlines, is due to arrive in Phnom Penh this week, finally allowing the launch of the part Australian-owned operation this week after months of delays.

Once delivered, the Boeing 737-500 is expected to make its first flight ferrying delegates to the region's biggest tourism conference, the ASEAN Tourism Forum, between the host capital, Phnom Penh, and Cambodia's greatest tourist destination, Siem Reap.

Twenty per cent owned by Australian investors, Mekong's five-man management team is made up of Australian expatriates. Ten of the airline's first 13 pilots, and much of its maintenance and engineering crew, are Australians who lost their jobs with the collapse of Ansett 16 months ago.

But the airline hopes to find a niche as a Cambodian, rather than Australian, operation. Since the demise of Cambodia's flag carrier, Royal Air Cambodge, in October 2001, most of the air traffic into Cambodia and particularly into Siem Reap has been conducted by Thai-owned carriers, a sore point among Cambodia's ruling elite.

Although the airline's investors remain a secret chief executive officer Denzil Sprague refuses to name them or explain why they wish to be unidentified Cambodians hold 51 per cent and American investors the remaining 29 per cent.

Mr Sprague says a key feature of the airline will be its determination to meet Australian standards for pilots and maintenance.

While many in the industry argue this is an uncertain time to establish an airline, Mr Sprague points to statistics which show tourist arrivals in Cambodia, driven by the magnificent Angkor Wat temple ruins close to Siem Reap, are increasing 30 per cent a year.

Mekong hopes to differentiate itself by offering direct flights from Hong Kong to Siem Reap, capitalising on the lucrative and growing market of northeast Asian tourists into southeast Asia.

Mr Sprague also insists it will not engage in any price wars, and instead offers 10 business class seats in another effort to distinguish itself from its main competitor, Bangkok Airlines.

The initial 43 flights a week schedule for the airline's sole 104-seat aircraft will also ferry tourists from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap via Phnom Penh.

Mr Sprague says the medium-term plans include flights to India and Japan, while the long-term vision would put Sydney and Melbourne on the schedule.

The airline was initially due to launch last February, and then in September, in time for the busy tourist season in Cambodia's dry period between October and February. But plans were delayed over failed negotiations to lease an Airbus aircraft.
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Old 21st Jan 2003, 06:00
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Unhappy

Unless the Australian and American investors have very deep pockets, I'll give this show 12 months at the outside, before either (a) the non-Khmers are forced out, or (b) it shuts down completely.

The graft and corruption involved in ALL of the airlines in that part of the world are what strangle them - not only within the airline itself, but Customs and Immigration, catering, etc.

I know one of the guys (investors) involved, and wish him luck - but having lived there for as long as he has, he really is is a brave man, knowing what he knows, and what he has seen and been through before.
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Old 21st Jan 2003, 06:28
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Old 21st Jan 2003, 16:03
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Good on em!

I actually wish them all the best. Anyone that can make employment for Ozzie pilots in this era deserves all support that we can give!

I knew lots of AN people having flown for regionals and affiliates over the years, and even some QF people recognise that to have a great airline, you need great competition. VB just don't cut the mustard with me at this time.

Bottom line is: Employ more pilots!!!




"Don't believe such rubbish - unless you hear it from me!"
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Old 24th Jan 2003, 07:35
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Photo of Mekong 737-500

[ http://www.jetphotos.net/viewphoto.php?id=26690]
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