The danger of travelling on RCAF helicopters was highlighted on April 1, 1998, when this Mi-17 crashed in a minefield at Preah Vihear with 37 people on board.
ROYAL Cambodian Air Force officers are running an unofficial tourist flight service
between Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Anlong Veng using antiquated Russian-built helicopters.
In Phnom Penh tickets are available for the irregularly scheduled flights from the
Narin Guest House, a popular place to stay for budget travelers.
Makara, who is in charge of ticketing at the guest house, said the service was provided
"secretly" by officers in the air force "to get money for food".
Staff at the Narin Guest House said the helicopters fly tourists at least 10 times
a month - usually when the air force has missions scheduled to Siem Reap or Anlong
Veng. The flights depart from the military base at Pochentong Airport. Sometimes
they will have as many as 20 tourists on board, paying $35 each for the one-way ticket,
When first contacted by the Post, Makara warned that the flight was potentially dangerous.
"Because we are both Cambodian, I advise you not to take the helicopter - it's
better taking the fast boat," he told Post reporter Lon Nara.
Makara said foreigners liked to take the flight because helicopter rides were usually
much more expensive in their home countries.
Sources told the Post that the Mahogany Guest House in Siem Reap also advertised
the air force flights.
But the sideline has drawn criticism from civil aviation authorities.
Keo Sivorn, Director of Flights Operation and Air Safety Department for the State
Secretariat of Civil Aviation, said it is illegal for the air force to be involved
in a civilian passenger service, adding that officials in Civil Aviation had been
unaware of the air force's tourist flights.
Sivorn said the air force does not carry insurance for such flights. "If a helicopter
crashes no one will be responsible."
He also said tourists needed to be aware that flying in military aircraft voided
their travel insurance.
He said there are real concerns about the safety of the military helicopters, as
the air force does not abide by international civil aviation standards for maintenance
and pilot training.
He said apart from being illegal, the air force flights have an unfair advantage
over commercial operators as they do not have to pay navigation, landing, and other
Royal Cambodia Air Force Commander Sing Samnang said the air force has only chartered
helicopters to oil [exploration] companies or to American teams searching for MIAs
- but always with the approval of higher authorities.
"This is illegal," Samnang told the Post. "I have never offered air
services to tourists. I am pretty sure that there is no such thing happening in the
Royal Cambodian Air Force.
"This is ridiculous. I will launch an investigation about this matter,"