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A plane sits on the tarmac at Phnom Penh International Airport in 2013. The ICAO is continuing to help the Kingdom with safety in the lead up to the industry audit in November.
A plane sits on the tarmac at Phnom Penh International Airport in 2013. The ICAO is continuing to help the Kingdom with safety in the lead up to the industry audit in November. Heng Chivoan

Flight body offers guidance

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on Friday pledged to continue to aid Cambodia in preparation for a November audit of the industry, which, despite some improvements, has yet to reach “professional” standards, a government spokesperson said yesterday.

Sinn Chanserey Vutha, spokesman for the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), said a lack of resources in human capital, expertise and equipment continue to hold the country back in the realm of aviation safety.

“Aviation is still not professional right now,” Vutha said. “But it will better than the last audit.”

According to ICAO’s last audit in 2007, Cambodia scored below the international standard for safety in almost every area, with the exclusion of legislation, which exceeded the average.

The Kingdom scored a particularly troubling 16 per cent in efficacy for accident investigations.

That same year, 22 families were killed in a crash near Bokor Mountain in Kampot province.

Not until 2011 was Cambodia found at fault and ordered to pay $2.8 million in compensation due to “human error and mechanical defects”.

The SSCA’s anxiety about the 2015 audit was seeded in February, when experts from the Australian-based Centre for Aviation warned that the country could be “blacklisted” due to loose internal regulations that they feared new airlines may exploit in order to get a toehold in the more tightly regulated Chinese market.

Last week, at the request of the SSCA, two ICAO experts met aviation officials to examine current technical issues of concern and suggest improvements to make over the next three months.

In August, experts from Singapore will visit to provide further support.

Vutha said the state body has more resources than in 2007, but in order to truly improve, Cambodia needs a full-time expert on hand and further training in technical skills, which currently are “not enough”.

A further strain on the industry may come from the demands of tourism: the Cambodian Airports newsletter reported a 14 per cent increase in passengers in the first six months of 2015, compared to the same period in 2014.

“The flights coming in is not a big problem; the big problem is how to oversee them,” said Vutha, who explained the increase in traffic requires stronger infrastructure, equipment and, most importantly, qualified inspectors.

Last week, a Wall Street Journal investigation found that the surging growth in Asian flight markets correlates to a lack of transparency surrounding potentially fatal accidents in the skies.

“Without proper accounting, experts say, airlines can’t learn from mistakes and regulators can’t properly assess safety risks . . . Left undocumented, botched procedures are left to grow endemic,” WSJ reported.

Sutha said yesterday that several new inspectors are undergoing on-the-job training to help address the personnel deficit, and that SSAC’s budget request for 2016 is seeking funding for 10 additional staff positions.

“I don’t want to go back in the past – our past record is not so good,” Sutha said. “We try to improve on this moment.”

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