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New twist in airline saga

K AMPUCHEA Airline's (KA) new chairman Prince Sisowath Chivanmonirak took over

the day after his predecessor Prince Chakrapong flew into exile after being

accused of leading a failed coup.

And the new chairman took no time in

adding a new twist to the Cambodian civil aviation saga. He declared: "I am 100

percent sure that Kampuchea Airlines will reform as Royal Air Cambodge (RAC). We

are going to do it ourselves."

Prince Chivanmonirak was referring to the

failure of the Royal Government to clinch an equitable deal with Singapore

International Airlines (SIA) over the formation of RAC.

Airline sources

said that the deal is stone dead after SIA failed to compromise sufficiently on

aspects of the contract which the government felt were exploitative.

However Gen Nady Tan, the government negotiator and designated president

of the SIA version of RAC is reportedly still clinging to the idea that the old

deal can be revived.

Previous plans for the expansion of KA into a fully

international airline following the failure of the SIA deal are to go on hold.

They are to be revised after the prince has thoroughly examined the structure of

KA's operation.

His short term plans include opening up routes to Hong

Kong, Singapore as well as maintaining flights to Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.

Later the company may add Tokyo to its flight list in a joint venture, the

prince said.

He added the transformation from state-enterprise KA into

privately-owned RAC would take place "hopefully in three months."

Funding for the expansion is likely to come from KA or government

coffers and not from abroad, he said. Though he added that some foreign advisors

may be recruited from other airlines.

The Prince said it was too early

for him to make any concrete figures or plans.

"The only thing in my mind

is to make a profit," he said, denying this would mean hiking fares. He said:

"We have to be attractive to traveler s in order to make a profit."

Thai-owned Cambodian International Airlines was to have ceased

operations a week prior to the planned start up of the SIA version of RAC on

July 1.

A CIA spokeswoman said last month that the airline had held

preliminary talks with First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh over it becoming

involved in finally getting RAC off the ground.

When asked about the

eventual fate of CIA, Prince Chivanmonirak said: "Ask me that question in three

months time."

Prior to taking the KA helm he had been working as a fraud

investigator for Los Angeles County's Social Security Department. He flew to

Cambodia two weeks prior to announcing his new appointment. Prince

Chivan-monirak says he is on good terms with Prince Ranariddh, who invited him

to take the job. The First Prime Minister and Prince Chakrapong are reputed to

be sworn enemies.

Prince Chivanmonirak is a former jet fighter pilot. He

was arrested and held in a prison camp in the Lon Nol coup in 1970 before being

allowed to go into exile in 1973. He initially went to Beijing and then had

spells in Yugoslavia, France and then the US.

Joining him as deputy

chairman and managing director is Pan Chantra, who has taken a two year leave of

absence from his job as a senior manager at Houston airport in

Texas.

Royal Air Cambodge was the national flag carrier during the

Sixties, which is considered the golden era in the nation's modern history.

The Prince has said that among the first orders he has made are

improvements to the dated and somewhat shabby front office of the airline's

headquarters on Norodom Boulevard and better interior cleaning of the Boeing 737

which serves the international routes. He concluded on taking his new job: "It's

a big challenge and I love challenges."

FIRST Prime Minister Prince

Ranariddh is seeking approval from the Council of Ministers for the $500,000

refurbishment of a grounded airliner to be used as a luxury government

plane.

If the proposal gets the go ahead a Kampuchea Airlines Tupolev 134

will be flown to Russia for a complete overhaul and internal reconfiguration, an

airline spokesman said.

It will be divided into three sections, with the

number of seats reduced from 70 to 40. The rear section will be for secretaries

and aides, the middle section for ministers and the front for the prime

ministers themselves, with full VIP trimmings. The work will take around 70 days

to complete.

The Tupolev, which has the range to reach Beijing with a

single stop over, used to fly on KA's Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City routes

before being grounded due to reaching its maximum flying hours before its next

overhaul.

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