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Sector sweats on ICAO audit

A member of Phnom Penh International Airport’s ground crew
A member of Phnom Penh International Airport’s ground crew walks along the tarmac past a plane shortly before a storm in 2013. Heng Chivoan

Sector sweats on ICAO audit

The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization is planning an audit of Cambodia’s aviation authority in November, officials confirmed yesterday.

The announcement of a pending review comes just months after an industry report warned that Cambodia’s lax regulations could lead to an ICAO blacklisting.

Cambodia fared poorly during its last full audit by the ICAO in 2007, with all criteria ranked substantially below international standards. Areas including navigation services and accident investigations were graded at almost 40 per cent below international safety levels.

Contacted yesterday, Sinn Chanserey Vutha, spokesman at the Sate Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), said that his organisation had already begun reviewing a questionnaire from ICAO in anticipation of an audit in November.

Vutha said he recognised the country’s aviation sector had some deficiencies, but was optimistic that the SSCA had improved significantly over the past years.

“Our performance is better than before and we hope that we can solve many of the issues mentioned. But we agree that we cannot be as good as advanced countries,” he said.

“We always worry because we are a developing country lacking human resources – we lack human and financial resources. We can’t predict the result, but we are worried and we are trying [to get a good result],” he said of the upcoming ICAO review.

Others have been less hopeful. This February, the Australia-based Centre for Aviation (CAPA) said current and future airlines were “worried the audit could result in Cambodia being placed on ICAO’s blacklist”.

The consequences of an ICAO downgrade can be far reaching. The UN watchdog raised questions earlier this year about the safety standards applied by the authorities in Thailand, which led to Japan, South Korea and China imposing restrictions on new charter and new scheduled flights from Thai-based to their countries.

According to the report, Cambodia was viewed as an easy way to obtain an Airline Operation Certificate (AOC) due to lax regulatory standards.

“As it is much more difficult to start an airline in China, establishing a Cambodian airline to pursue the China-Cambodia market represents a far more attractive solution,” the report states.

Three airlines alone – Bassaka Air, Bayon Air and Apsara Air – were approved to fly in Cambodia in 2014’s last quarter.

However, the report warned that Chinese authorities were monitoring the Kingdom’s airlines, and that Cambodia would have to tighten its standards due to renewed scrutiny from the ICAO.

The audit comes at a time when international safety officials are reportedly eyeing stronger enforcement in Asian countries due to increasing tourism traffic in the region and a series
of accidents from regional carriers.

Nancy Graham, the ICAO’s top safety expert, told the Wall Street Journal this February that small countries such as Cambodia and Nepal were particularly vulnerable if they did not put safety
before demand.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism, warned of the importance of the SSCA meeting the ICAO standards.

The ripple effect of a poor outcome, he said, would have broad consequences for the Kingdom’s tourism sector.

“[All the sectors] are in the same rice cooker,” he said.

“If the SSCA is [blacklisted], the airline companies would not be operating properly, so then it would affect all of us, both public and private institutions.”

SSCA spokesman Vutha said the audit results would be made available three months after the review was completed.

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