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More Cambodians join pilot training

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An airport employee directs a plane at the Phnom Penh International Airport. A partnership between Cambodia Angkor Air and VFT has Cambodian students training to become commercial airline pilots. Sovan Philong

More Cambodians join pilot training

Five aspiring Cambodian pilots attended their first class yesterday of a 16-month flight-training program by Viet Flight Training (VFT) that will qualify them to be commercial airline pilots, making them among the first Cambodian nationals to earn their wings in decades.

The five students are the second batch of Cambodian students to enrol in the VFT flight-training program, which partnered up with Cambodia Angkor Air last November.

Two Cambodian pilot hopefuls have already completed six months of theoretical training in Vietnam and are now in the United States for a subsequent 10 to 12 months of practical training. They are expected to graduate in October 2016 after returning to Vietnam for a further three weeks of simulation training.

The pilot training is set to bolster Cambodia’s budding aviation sector, which has expanded rapidly on double-digit tourism growth. National carrier Cambodia Angkor Air has a fleet of six aircraft and plans to add more flights and destinations.

It hopes to recruit more local talent as pilots and flight crews.

Sinn Chanserey Vutha, deputy director-general of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), said it has been decades since Cambodia sponsored a pilot-training program. The few remaining Cambodian pilots in the skies were trained in the Soviet Union in the 1980s and are approaching retirement age.

“Since the Soviet Union collapsed, no Cambodian pilots have been trained,” he said, referring to state-backed flight training programs.

In August 2015, Cambodia Angkor Air signed an agreement with VFT to train Cambodian pilots at its facilities in Ho Chi Minh City. The airline agreed to partially subsidise the cost of the training in return for the student working exclusively for the airline for a set period upon graduation.

However, the funding program has failed to start, leaving Cambodia’s aspiring pilots to finance their own training – a daunting prospect given that the 16-month VFT program costs $89,640, while additional aircraft-specific training can put the total cost of pilot training over $100,000.

“Angkor Air is trying to find solutions to finance future students, but for now students have to finance themselves,” said Nguyen Hoang Bao Chau, VFT’s marketing director.

She said VFT trains more than 300 pilots per year and offers more than 10 courses, each with approximately 10 students per class.

Following completion of the program, VFT forwards the profiles and credentials of the new pilots to its various partnered airlines – though unsponsored students are free to choose which airline they will work for.

Nay Meng Eang, director of HR and training for Cambodia Angkor Air, said the airline intends to establish a scholarship program for local candidates, and has approached local banks to facilitate financing.

“We are in continuing discussions with banks on loan issuance for students who do not have enough [money] to pay for the training fees,” he said.

SSCA’s Vutha suggested that Cambodia could look to its development partners for support.

“Perhaps we should seek official development assistance [ODA] that could help Cambodian students to be more trained efficiently, like we had previously done with the Soviet Union during 1980s,” he said.

Chan Uddomkrissna, one of two Cambodian students already matriculated in the VFT program, said he enrolled to pursue his childhood dream of being a pilot.

“I worked at Cambodia Angkor Air as a flight attendant and saw that Cambodia Angkor Air signed a contract with Viet Flight Training, so I applied,” he said.

Uddomkrissna said he was fortunate that his father, a former pilot himself, was able to put up the tuition fees, and is confident that after graduating he will be able to earn back the money. He hopes one day to fly for the national carrier.

“Cambodia Angkor Air is my first choice after I finish my training because I want to fly for my own national airline,” he said.

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