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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Air safety damned by report

Air safety damned by report

Cambodia's aviation safety oversight body is incapable of ensuring the airworthiness

and safety of domestic airline operations, a confidential audit report says.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) report, which has been suppressed

by the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), was provided to the Post by an

international aviation safety expert deeply concerned by what he termed SSCA's "unwillingness

or inability" to address the shortcomings outlined in the report.

The report 's findings, which SSCA personnel played down in previous Post enquiries

(see Post July 7-20, 2000), paints a damning indictment of the SSCA as chronically

underfunded, understaffed, and underskilled. ICAO made 30 recommendations to SSCA

to fulfill its responsibility of supervising flight safety operations in the Kingdom.

The ICAO safety review was done in April 1999 as part of a special two year Universal

Safety Oversight Audit of world airlines. Although the report specifies that SSCA

must provide an action plan within 21 days of the report's issuance to address the

listed deficiencies, the international aviation safety expert who contacted the Post

says that the SSCA has done little or nothing to rectify the situation.

"If anything, conditions and standards [at SSCA] has gotten worse since the

report was issued," he said. "The situation is literally one in which we're

just waiting for an accident to happen."

The expert said that the ICAO report was conducted when Cambodia's domestic airline

industry consisted of only two airlines - Royal Air Cambodge and the now-defunct

Kampuchea Airlines. The addition of Royal Phnom Penh Airways, President Airlines,

and the soon-to-be inaugurated Royal Khmer Airlines will further strain SSCA's already

overwhelmed capacity.

Repeated attempts by the Post to meet with SSCA officials to discuss the ICAO report

and its implications were unsuccessful.

Representatives of ICAO's regional office in Bangkok also declined comment.

The ICAO report identified four main areas of SSCA operations that seriously impair

its ability to effectively maintain international safety standards for Cambodia's

domestic flight industry.

Regulatory loopholes

ICAO says that Cambodia's lack of a comprehensive civil aviation law seriously compromises

flight safety and operations monitoring functions.

Although SSCA's former Deputy Director of Operations and Flight Safety Chea Aun told

the Post in July 2000 that the absence of a civil aviation law was irrelevant to

SSCA's daily operations, ICAO says the absence of specific and binding regulations

regarding monitoring and supervision of domestic flight operations was a serious

flaw.

"The SSCA did not have an aircraft operation regulations nor were any regulations,

procedures and guidance materials available to the technical and administrative staff,"

the report states. "Regulations for safety were inadequate and did not meet

the criteria for regulations as stipulated [by] ICAO."

Personnel deficiencies

The ICAO audit revealed that SSCA personnel, from top to bottom, were almost universally

incapable of adequately performing the safety supervision and monitoring functions

required of them.

"The recruiting process [for SSCA]...is carried out by the Civil Service Commission

which made its decisions based on the need to employ citizens rather than on technical

qualifications...the end result was an insufficient number of [safety] inspectors."

ICAO found that key positions within SSCA were held by individuals with none of the

experience or qualifications necessary to perform such functions.

"Flight crew licensing was accomplished by one officer who had no formal training...and

was performing his duties without the benefit of written policies and procedures."

Most disturbingly, the top levels of SSCA management were proven by ICAO to be as

unqualified for their positions as the personnel they were responsible for supervising.

"The Director of the Flight Operations and Air Safety Department was a qualified

military pilot with no civilian flying experience and no type rating for any of the

transport aircraft operating in Cambodia," the report states. "No initial

or recurrent training had been provided to enable the Director to gain competency

and proficiency with respect to his duties as an inspector."

ICAO noted the limited numbers of qualified staff working at SSCA as a serious obstacle

to fulfilling its mandate.

"The level of staffing (no officer in operations, four in airworthiness and

one in personnel licensing) appear to be inadequate in view of the level of aviation

activities...officers were in dire need of training in their technical fields."

SSCA efforts to upgrade the capacity of its staff were judged by ICAO to be woefully

inadequate.

"There were no training plans and any implementation would be hampered by the

lack of financial resources. The [SSCA] central library was primarily stocked with

ICAO documents in French and Russian-language technical documents which the majority

of staff were unable to read."

Verification procedures

Compounding the potential for disaster posed by SSCA's untrained and inexperienced

Cambodian staff was a lack of formal procedures to ensure that foreign pilots and

flight crew manning Cambodian domesticaircraft were fit and qualified for the task.

"Cambodia had no system for verifying the quality of training records by its

applicants in foreign training centers...[and] there was no procedure for liasing

with foreign regulatory authorities to establish the legitimacy of foreign licenses.

"No written or practical [flight] exams were being conducted [and] no aviation

medical examinations for flight crew members had been conducted in Cambodia. Foreign

medical certificates had [been] accepted without further review and without benefit

of a full examination report."

Airline supervision and inspection

ICAO found that Cambodia's lack of a civil aviation law explicitly outlining SSCA's

rights and obligations in monitoring the operations and airworthiness of domestic

airlines had resulted in ICAO allowing airlines to monitor themselves, with no independent

quality and safety assurance measures.

"Operation certification and supervision of operators was practically non-existent

due to the total absence of qualified inspectors and a lack of written policies,"

the report states. "There had been no evidence that the SSCA had carried out

any flight operation inspections. No evidence existed to indicate any discrepancies

had ever been noted with regard to any surveillance. Surveillance was simply not

done."

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