Review: Cambodia Bayon Airlines

Yet another Chinese entrant into Cambodian domestic airspace, Cambodia Bayon Airlines flies between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, and Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. Flights are incredibly cheap, but there are some serious safety concerns to consider. We fly Cambodia Bayon Airlines from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and see what all of the fuss is about.

Cambodia Bayon Airlines

Cambodia Bayon Airlines flies Chinese MA60 turboprop planes. Be ready for a loud ride.

Cambodia Bayon Airlines is Chinese-owned, partially by Joy Air who unsurprisingly chose not to operate under their original name, which sounds exceedingly crude in the Khmer language. They’re flying one MA60, a Soviet-style turboprop plane, that covers all of the three routes each day, but they’re planning to expand their fleet and presumably dominate the Cambodian domestic market with flights between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap every 45 minutes.

The MA60 (“Modern Ark 60”) is a Chinese-made plan with a troubled history. Because of numerous crashes, accidents, and safety concerns, the plane has been banned from flying in the US, Europe, UK, New Zealand, and Australia. Recently, countries like Tonga, Nepal, and Indonesia have either gotten rid of or banned the MA60 due to safety issues. Cambodia Bayon Airlines, on the other hand, has 19 more on order, which will eventually make them one of the airlines in the world with the largest number of these exotic, if dangerous, planes (only beaten by the aptly named Okay Airlines).

Cambodia Bayon Air economy class

Economy class on Cambodia Bayon Air…not as bad as you might expect.

Now here’s where I digress into the stuff that you might not care about, but Bayon Air purchased the 20 planes at a cost of $450 million from Chinese state-owned aerospace company Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). But according to the Phnom Penh Post, “Bayon Air is a subsidiary of Bayon Holding Limited, which is wholly owned by AVIC and China Easter Air’s Joy Air.” So yes, a company is purchasing millions of dollars in unsafe planes from itself to operate in Cambodian airspace.

Of course I was completely unaware of any of this when I booked the morning Bayon Air flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. And it was fine; I survived the flight. The flight took about 50 minutes, which is longer than Bassaka Air, because it’s a smaller plane. The noise near the propellers is pretty loud, and there’s no room for any large or awkward luggage in the overhead bins. Perhaps knowing these failings, Bayon Air bribes its passengers by handing out pastries and water during the flight.

Cambodia Bayon Air inflight service

The pastry bribe: not bad for a 50-minute flight.

I was told that check-in closes 30 minutes before the flight takes off (and boarding starts at the same time). Like the other domestic airlines, Bayon Airlines is relatively lax with ID requirements and will accept a photocopy of your passport in lieu of the real thing. I also noticed the security screener ignoring the screen, making me wish I hadn’t chucked my bottle of water.

The Bayon Airlines MA60 have 50 seats. 48 of those are regular economy seats, but the other two appear to be two random easy chairs in the back of the plane (which is where the passengers board) that makes up the whole of business class.

On the Phnom Penh to Siem Reap route, prices start at $32 for a one-way once taxes are included and a preposterous $153 for business class. The Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville route seems to be hovering around $70 (and $169 for biz). This route is especially silly, because it flies from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, which takes almost three hours. If you hit the gas, you can drive it in the same amount of time, so the plane is probably not the best way to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. If you’re flying Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, flights are currently starting around $54 for a one-way ticket.

Cambodia Bayon Air business class

The exceedingly odd solo business class seat. There’s one more across the aisle.

Overall, I probably won’t be spending a lot of time flying on Cambodia Bayon Air because of safety concerns, but I also recognize that I’m probably more likely to die on Cambodia’s roads than I will in its skies, no matter how often I fly.

Bayon Airlines schedule:
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: 8:10 a.m.
Siem Reap to Phnom Penh: 8:00 p.m.

Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville: 4:20 p.m.
Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh: 3:00 p.m.

Sihanoukville to Siem Reap: 5:35 p.m.
Siem Reap to Sihanoukville: 9:55 a.m.

At the time of writing, Bayon Air is flying daily trips between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville (with a triangle flight). It’s best to check and confirm, as they change their schedule regularly. I’d recommend not booking too far in advance or relying on them to connect to an international flight. With only one plane, if they have any mechanical failures the flights for the day will inevitably be cancelled.

Tickets can be booked with most travel agents in Cambodia, or tickets can be reserved on the Cambodia Bayon Airlines website, and then paid for within 24 hours at their office in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, or Sihanoukville. They will also, allegedly, send someone to you to pick up payment in either of those cities while they work on getting their payment processing set up.

Want to compare all of the airlines flying between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap? Read the Phnom Penh-Siem Reap flights blog post. 

Cambodia Bayon Airlines

Phnom Penh International Airport, Phnom Penh
Borei Angkor Arcade Shopping Center, Road 6, Siem Reap
T: 023 231 555; 099 227 301

19 Responses to Review: Cambodia Bayon Airlines

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  1. H Martin says:

    I am an airline pilot, I fly the MA60 & have done since 2014.
    I have almost 1000 hrs on Type.
    No major problems
    malo from Tonga :)

    • Lina says:

      I thought they grounded them in Tonga, are they flying again? Why do you think the MA60 has such a bad reputation if there’s no problem? Is it just issues with the pilots at these airlines?

  2. Raphael says:

    Hi Lina,

    I am a little late in joining this conversation apparently, but I am completely backing Richard’s comments on the MA60. Granted this aircraft has had bad press, but surely for all the wrong reasons. It’s an incredibly tough aircraft and his rusticity is adapted to fly under those latitudes. Out of the 13 accidents that have involved this plane, only 1 has resulted in casualties. Naturally, that’s 1 too much, but as stated by Richard, training standards or weather conditions were to blame rather than aircraft specifications. Most equipment on-board are indeed from western origins and Bayon Airlines history is accident-free so far. As a blog taking pride in informing the traveling public, I think it is important not to spread a distorted view of the reality and potentially harm the reputation of businesses without fact-based evidences… Bayon Airlines commercial reliability might be debatable as reported by some of the contributors here (which is often the case with young airlines), however that doesn’t constitute a safety concern. That being said, well done for your blog and keep… flying high!

    • Lina says:

      Thanks for your comment. Personally, I don’t think I’m spreading a distorted view of reality, because the safety of this plane is very controversial. The Wall Street Journal investigated a few months ago and found some very concerning things.

      Of the 57 MA60s the manufacturer said it had exported as of January, at least 26 were put in storage after safety concerns, maintenance problems or other performance issues, the Journal calculated. Six others were deemed damaged beyond repair, or 11% of the foreign MA60 fleet.

      China also does not release all of their domestic accident information, so there may well be more than 13 accidents. And 13 accidents when there are only 53 planes in operation seems like a lot to me. Compare that rate to the to the ATR-72, a similar plane, or the Airbus 320 family which is the other option to fly in Cambodia. And while I can believe that some of the MA60 accidents are due to user error, that doesn’t negate the stats listed above from the Wall Street Journal.

      Out of curiosity, are you by any chance affiliated with an airline?

  3. THIBERT says:

    DON’T BOOK any flight with BAYON AIRLINES.
    I was struggling to reach them, and I have never been noticed that they CANCELED my flight, I had to call them to hear that one week before my flight !!! I AM REALLY ANGRY AT THEM

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