A Change of Guard

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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Chopper to serve Koh Rong

A worker inspects the tail rotor blade of a Bell helicopter inside a hangar at Mexico City International Airport in Mexico last year. Bloomberg
A worker inspects the tail rotor blade of a Bell helicopter inside a hangar at Mexico City International Airport in Mexico last year. Bloomberg

Chopper to serve Koh Rong
Tue, 26 April 2016 ppp
Kali Kotoski

Cambodia will see its first Bell Helicopter introduced into the luxury tourism market by the first quarter of 2017 after the Texas-based aerospace manufacturer inked a $1.3 million deal with a private operator set to fly well-heeled tourists to a resort under development on Koh Rong, an island off the Kingdom’s southern coast.

Representatives of Bell said yesterday that the company signed a letter of intent earlier this month for the sale of a Bell 505 Jet Ranger X helicopter to VIP Jets. The Bangkok-based company is headed by Swiss-Thai businessman Luzi Matzig, who has entered into a joint-venture agreement with Kith Meng’s The Royal Group to develop the high-end Royal Sands resort on Koh Rong.

The helicopter will be operated by Helicopter Cambodia, an aviation charter company that Royal Group acquired a stake in about 18 months ago, according to its chief executive, Kevin Treloar.

He said that the aircraft would be used to increase access to the $40 million resort development, which is located about 25 kilometres from Sihanoukville in the Gulf of Thailand.

“This will be the first helicopter dedicated for a resort and the first based on the southern coast, and will be used primarily to carry passengers to the Royal Sands,” Treloar said.

“The helicopter will operate as an added luxury service and will show a market change in Sihanoukville to a more high-end traveller.”

The aircraft, which can be configured to hold five passengers, could operate three or four flights a day, he added.

Helicopter Cambodia currently operates two commercially licensed Airbus helicopters that offer flight services over Angkor Wat.

While the Bell 505 will not arrive until the first quarter of 2017, after the model receives official certification from the US-based Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to be sold globally, the company is already considering purchasing a second unit for the Cambodian market.

Brian McDonald, managing director of Asian Aviation Resources, a regional distributor of Bell Helicopter, said that the $1.3 million price tag made it an affordable aircraft for the Cambodian market with a “low cost of operation.”

Keo Sivorn, director-general of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation of Cambodia, said that he had yet to be informed of a new helicopter entering the local airspace, but welcomed the news.

“Helicopter companies are looking for opportunities to expand their value,” he said.

“I think it is good that a new company is looking into the Cambodian market.”

To date, five helicopters – all Airbus models – have been licensed for commercial operations in Cambodia, according to Sivorn. He said any new manufacturer looking to enter the local market would need to have a dedicated service provider for maintenance and spare parts.

While Bell must wait for FAA approval to commence international sales of its 505 model, Sivorn said the helicopter will also need to have a trusted and proven track record before it can “fly in Cambodia”.

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