Cambodia’s Lanmei Airlines scoops Chinese ‘5th freedom’ rights

 Lanmei Airlines has been awarded fifth freedom rights through Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport in central China’s Gansu province as a commercial stop on its services from Phnom Penh to Kathmandu (Nepal) and Lahore International (Pakistan). The move marks the first time fifth freedom rights to/from Lanzhou have been granted to a foreign carrier.

According to the Gansu Economic Daily, the local authorities resolved to grant the Cambodian carrier, which is backed by Chinese investors, the rights on June 2, although they have yet to be approved by the central authorities. Flightradar24 ADS-B data indicates the airline has yet to launch flights from Lanzhou to either Nepal or Pakistan. The local government also underlined that increased cargo capacity is particularly salient to the province’s manufacturing and exports centre.

The decision follows a commitment from January 2021 that outlined Lanmei Airlines’ plans to open a cargo base in Gansu province through a new subsidiary, Lanmei Airlines International Logistics (Gansu) Co Ltd.

Lanmei Airlines operates four A320-200s and two A321-200s (one of which has been in storage since December 2020). Its only scheduled passenger routes are from Phnom Penh domestically to Sihanoukville and internationally to Guangzhou, although it also operates an extensive regional network of cargo-only charters, including to Lanzhou.

Lanzhou sees extensive domestic traffic with 87 scheduled passenger routes for a total of 226,392 weekly scheduled departing seats. However, the airport is not currently served internationally. It hosts China Eastern Airlines and Ruili Airlines crew bases.

Lanmei Airlines is the second Cambodian carrier to be awarded Chinese fifth freedom rights after Cambodia Angkor Air, which was granted such rights for operations from Haikou airport on Hainan island earlier this year.

The fifth freedom allows an airline to carry revenue traffic between foreign countries as a part of services connecting the airline’s own country. It is the right to carry passengers from one’s own country to a second country, then from that country onward to a third country (and so on). Freedoms of the air apply to commercial aviation. The terms “freedom” and “right” are a shorthand way of referring to the type of international services permitted between two or more countries. Even when such services are allowed by countries, airlines may still face restrictions to accessing them by the terms of treaties or for other reasons.

Based in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Lanmei Airlines is a local Cambodia air transport company. “Lanmei” is an abbreviation for the Lancang-Mekong River. The Lancang River originates in Southwest China and becomes known as Mekong as it flows through Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and into the South China Sea.

Pre-Covid, the company said its game plan was to become one of the world’s leading e-commerce airlines with logistical services including door-to-door delivery and also its own e-commerce platform that would enable Chinese suppliers to market their products.

Its plan in 2019 was also to start external aircraft cleaning services, catering and provide third-party spare parts maintenance which it sees as a precursor to establishing a maintenance, repair and overhaul service for commercial planes in Cambodia, avoiding expensive, monopolised outsourcing.

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