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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pilot training makes a return

A plane takes off from Phnom Penh International Airport last year
A plane takes off from Phnom Penh International Airport last year. Cambodia Angkor Air will start training commercial pilots after a 25-year hiatus in the Kingdom. Heng Chivoan

Pilot training makes a return

Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA) on Tuesday signed an agreement with Viet Flight Training Joint Stock Company (VFT) to restart training local pilots, decades after Cambodia ceased schooling locals to fly commercial aircraft.

CAA representative Thai Binh Tran said 50 to 70 budding local pilots are expected to enrol in the course within the first year, with a fee of $80,000 per student. The new generation of Cambodian pilots will be trained in facilities in Vietnam and in the United States before returning to work exclusively for CAA.

VFT has invested some $3 million to launch the 72-week, which leaves graduates qualified to co-pilot commercial airlines, according to Tran.

“Firstly the student must invest himself in the school fees, and after having obtained good records, he is sponsored and reimbursed 50 per cent of the school fees. This is considered the scholarships for students,” Tran told the Post.

“There is high demand in recruiting pilots in the region, not only in Cambodia. The training program helps the young Cambodians to pursue good careers as well as affirm the aviation industry in Cambodia.”

Chan Oddumkrissna, a 25-year-old flight attendant for CAA, has dreamt of being a pilot since his childhood.

“My father was also a pilot. I have memories as a child when my dad would take me to his office and I would play with the model airplanes, and take photos of myself on my father’s lap pretending to fly the airplane,” he said.

“It is my dream job.”

Oddumkrissna’s parents have agreed to pay for his schooling fees. However, the 25-year-old is confident that after graduating, he will be able to earn back the money in a matter of years.

“I heard pilots can earn between $5,000 and $6,000 per month,” he said.

CAA, which is 49 per cent owned by Vietnam Airlines, remains Cambodia’s sole international flag-carrier with a current fleet of seven aircraft. But the airline is eyeing rapid growth in the coming years, with passenger capacities increasing more than 70 per cent from about 12,500 weekly seats recorded in January 2013 to about 21,500 weekly seats recorded in January this year.

The new agreement is set to help bolster the growing industry, CAA’s President Tek Rethsamrach said during the announcement of the flight training program, held at in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

“This is the first agreement after Cambodia has not sent students to study commercial pilot skills for 25 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” he said.

Keo Sivorn, director general at the State Secretariat for Civil Aviation (SSCA), is an ex-pilot himself. As was one of the few Cambodian pilots to train in the Soviet Union back in the 1980s, Sivorn welcomed VFT’s Tuesday announcement, but said the local aviation industry is short of more than just pilots.

“There are about 20 experienced pilots left, but now they are all aged in their 50s or 60s. There are no young pilots here anymore,” Sivorn said, adding that most experienced Cambodian pilots have historically found employment in other Asian countries such as Thailand or Malaysia due to a lack of domestic demand.

“But now we [SSCA] are in the process of evaluating some companies to have Air Operations Certificates. We need pilots, aviation engineers, mechanics and more aviation management officials to fill the industry too.”

The new training deal comes ten months after the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) inked a $10 million deal to set up a local Civil Aviation Training Center (CATC).

KOICA, in October announced the construction of the facility, which will provide training for ground staff, flight crews and air traffic controllers. The facility is slated to open at the eastern compound of Phnom Penh International Airport in 2015.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY HOR KIMSAY

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