New national carrier not approved as airline according to domestic law, says European Commission, while civil aviation remains blacklisted in Brussels
Cambodia Angkor Air ... only hires services from a Vietnamese operator.
CAMBODIA’S new flag carrier remains little more than a booking agent for its partner, Vietnam Airlines, according to the European Commission.
Information from the European Commission (EC) concerning the status of Siem Reap Airways, which Cambodian aviation authorities said last week had been cleared to fly after being grounded in December 2008, reveals that Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA) has not been approved as an operator according to Cambodian law. CAA is 51 percent owned by the Cambodian government, with Vietnam Airlines controlling the rest.
“According to the last information communicated by the competent authorities of Cambodia, Cambodia Angkor Air is not currently approved as an operator and only hires [wet leases] services from a Vietnamese operator,” EC transport spokesman Fabio Pirotta said by email from Brussels late Thursday.
As such, the airline has not come under the scrutiny of the EC, which late last year blacklisted Siem Reap Airways due to concerns about the oversight provided by the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) in Cambodia. Siem Reap Airways ceased operations on commercial grounds in November after the EC decision, according to current General Manager Terry Alton, on the grounds that the blacklisting prevented European travel operators from booking customers.
The SSCA removed the airline’s Air Operator Certificate (AOC) in December, according to EC documents seen by the Post. The documents also reveal that a fact-finding mission by the EC in March 2009 found that Bangkok Airways had “the actual control” of Siem Reap Airways’ operations, and that the Thai Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) was conducting “adequate oversight activities” on the carrier.
However, because the operator was registered in Cambodia, it was the oversight of the Cambodian authorities that mattered, Pirotta said.
The EC’s decision to blacklist the airline followed an audit of airline standards and oversight in Cambodia under the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme.
“It was done solely on the basis of deficiencies reported by the ICAO, including significant safety concerns communicated to all states party to the Chicago convention, and after due consultations with the competent authorities of Cambodia,” Pirotta said.
The ICAO findings were not released publicly, nor to Siem Reap Airlines, but a source within SSCA previously told the Post that the audit found Cambodia in breach of 107 international standards.
Problems still unresolved
Pirotta said the SSCA had still not adequately addressed the ICAO’s concerns, citing that failure as a reason for the continued blacklisting of Siem Reap Airways. “If Siem Reap completes the certification process and gets an Air Operator Certificate (AOC), and if Cambodia can demonstrate they have effectively addressed ICAO findings pertaining to the oversight of operators, then the case could be in a good position for reconsideration,” he said.
This rebuts recent statements to the Post by SSCA officials that the government had approved a new two-year licence for the airline, and that it had been cleared for takeoff. SSCA Secretary of State Mao Havannal told the Post last week that the airline needed only to register a plane in Cambodia to receive an AOC.
Under Cambodian law, an airline must have at least one plane registered locally for every category of aircraft flown to receive an AOC to fly domestic routes. The airline may then lease aircraft registered in another territory in the same category.
Mao Havannal said last week that he had informed the European Union on October 12 that Siem Reap Airways had satisfied all local and EU “requirements and concerns”, adding that he had told the EU that an AOC would not be issued until the airline registered a plane locally, according to Cambodian law.
“If we granted an AOC to Siem Reap Airways now, it would be a mistake because the airline has not had an airplane locally registered,” he said. “If they do that, we will officially submit a formal letter to the EU.”
Alton said the airline was negotiating with financiers to lease a plane for local registration.
When asked whether the EC delegation to Cambodia had been contacted regarding Siem Reap Airways’ approval to fly, a spokesman for Phnom Penh-based Ambassador David Lipman said the statement from Brussels was “the European Commission’s position on the issue”.
Mao Havannal refused requests for comment on CAA’s status Friday. He referred questions to another person, who also refused to comment.