Qatar Airways will become the first carrier in the Middle East to launch flights to Cambodia when it inaugurates a new connection to Phnom Penh next year. The airline will offer a daily service from Doha to Phnom Penh from February 20, 2013 as an extension of its existing route to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The flight will be operated by a two-class Airbus A330-200 with 36 Business Class and 248 Economy seats.
Phnom Penh will be Qatar Airways' 11th gateway in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), following on from existing operations to Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Bali, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Hanoi, Singapore, Manila, Phuket and Yangon. It will also extend the airline’s network to 119 destinations, of which just under a third are located in Asia.
Located on the banks of the Mekong River and bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, Phnom Penh is Cambodia's largest city and the country's economic, cultural and political centre. It is attracting an increasing number of tourists and business travellers every year, many visiting historic attractions such as the majestic Angkor Wat in Siem Reap and the premier beach island resort of Sihanoukville - both within reach of the fabulous city of Phnom Penh either by land or domestic air services.
The majority of passengers into Cambodia from the Middle East and further afield across Europe are currently connecting via other major Asian hub airports before continuing journeys into the country. There have previously been limited non-stop air services between the Middle East and Cambodia, but these have only operated for limited periods. Aeroflot offered a link between Dubai and Phnom Penh from August 1990 until May 1993, while Air Finland used Abu Dhabi and Al Ain as a stopover for its irregular flights to Phnom Penh from Europe between December 2007 and March 2008.
In 2011 an estimated 1.7 million O&D passengers flew in or out Phnom Penh on international flights. This demand is obviously dominated by regional links with Thailand (17.9 per cent), Malaysia (15.9 per cent) and China (13.1 per cent) the top three markets. However, there is also notable passenger flows from other parts of the world, including France (3.0 per cent), the US (1.1 per cent), Canada (1.0 per cent) and the UK (0.7 per cent). Qatar Airways will hope to tap into these markets through its wider international network, providing back capacity into Cambodia via Doha International Airport.
Air France is currently the only airline to serve Phnom Penh from Europe. The European flag carrier first started flying to Phnom Penh in 1947 when Cambodia was still a French colony but suspended its services in June 1974, just months before the Khmer Rouge closed the borders and launched a radical revolution. It relaunched flights in March 2011 with a three times weekly link initially via Bangkok but it also now flies via Ho Chi Minh. This winter Condor will also offer a weekly non-stop charter link from Frankfurt to Siem Reap, according to OAG’s schedules.
"As we continue our aggressive worldwide expansion programme, we are delighted to offer our customers a much awaited connection to one of Asia's most popular and well-loved destinations," said Akbar Al Baker, Chief Executive Officer, Qatar Airways. "We very much look forward to celebrating our arrival in Cambodia next year and playing our part to help further boost the country's vibrant tourism industry, which is the country's second largest income provider," he added.
The airline will serve Phnom Penh International Airport in the Cambodian capital. The airport is currently undergoing expansion to cater for increased demand and expects handle as it is forecasted to handle around five million passengers a year by 2017 - more than double the current amount.
This announcement also represents an upgrade of Qatar Airways’ flights to Ho Chi Minh. The carrier launched flights to Vietnam’s largest city in March 2007 and from November 2010 operated to the city in combination with Bangkok. Since December 2011 an alteration to the routing meant all flights currently operate via the Thai capital, but the launch of this new Phnom Penh service will represent the return of direct flights between Doha and Ho Chi Minh. This is a move that will help it compete with local rivals Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways into the Vietnamese market.
This is Qatar Airways' fourth new route announcement so far for 2013 with services to Gassim in Saudi Arabia, Najaf in Iraq and Chicago, the carrier's fourth US gateway, due to launch between January and April next year. Akbar Al Baker recently revealed that the carrier would introduce 15 new routes during 2013 so we can expect at least a further eleven network announcements before the end of next year. The UK and US markets are both expected to feature in this growth, according to sources close to the carrier.