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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Grounded airline says it should be freed to fly

Grounded airline says it should be freed to fly

091020_07
A Bangkok Airways plane waits on the runway at Phnom Penh International Airport. The airline is due to cease flying domestic routes on Sunday but has passengers booked beyond that date.

Siem Reap Airways manager says that if the company were subject to the same rules as CAA, it could resume flights soon

We could be operating well before the peak tourist season.

SIEM Reap Airways could be airborne “well before the peak tourist season” if an apparent double standard in the licensing of Cambodia’s two domestic carriers was removed, General Manager Terry Alton said Monday.

The European Commission (EC) told the Post late last week that Cambodia Angkor Air, the government’s joint venture with Vietnam Airlines, was flying without an Air Operator Certificate (AOC) by using aircraft hired on a wet-lease basis from its Vietnamese owner.

Meanwhile, the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) has not allowed Siem Reap Airways to do the same, Alton said.

“Taking into account the reports in the newspapers, I was a little surprised to read that the EC believe that Cambodian Angkor Air simply operates wet-leased aircraft,” he said by email Monday from Bangkok.

“My energies concerning Siem Reap Airways have been in search of an aircraft that the owner will allow to be registered in Cambodia, and that has not proved to be an easy task.”

The airline had found no shortage of owners willing to lease an aircraft on a wet-lease basis, he added, as CAA had done in launching at the end of July.

In a wet lease arrangement, one airline provides aircraft, crew and insurance to another, which pays by hours operated.

“If we were authorised to operate with a wet-leased aircraft, I would anticipate that we could be operating well before the peak tourist season with obvious benefits to the number of tourist arrivals into Cambodia over the coming months,” he said.

If the SSCA levelled the playing field overnight, Alton said, he could possibly launch by Sunday – the same day parent company Bangkok Airways ceases flying between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap – though he acknowledged that “realistically it would be tight”.

The airline stopped operations in November when it was put on an EC blacklist due to concerns over SSCA oversight. The SSCA subsequently removed the airline’s Air Operator Certificate in December, according to EC documents seen by the Post.

The EC revelation came after the government told the airline that it will not be granted a licence to resume domestic flights until it registers an aircraft in Cambodia as required under Cambodian law.

However, that law allows foreign-registered airlines to fly domestic routes with a special government permit such as the one Bangkok Airways uses to run services between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Cambodia Angkor Air appears to be operating under a similar permit, though this could not be confirmed Monday because SSCA Secretary of State Mao Havannal could not be reached for comment.

Bangkok Airways’ permit will expire on Sunday, and the government has said it will not be renewed. Siem Reap Airways is hoping to be airborne by that date to handle passengers already booked on its parent. Those passengers, who number in the hundreds, will need to be transferred to Cambodia Angkor Air if the deadline cannot be met, Bangkok Airways spokesman Ekkaphon Nanta O’Sot said last week.

When the SSCA announced it would not renew the operating permit in September, senior officials said the decision was taken to give a boost to the fledgling domestic carrier Cambodia Angkor Air, which made its maiden flight on July 28 this year under a “proudly the national flag carrier” banner.

The SSCA has since softened its stance, saying the permit was always designed to be temporary and expire at the end of the summer flight schedule.

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