AN independent safety audit of Cambodia's State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SCCA)
has raised serious questions about the Cambodia's domestic flight safety standards.
The safety review, performed by investigators of the International Civil Aviation
Organization (ICAO) in April 1999 as part of a special two year Universal Safety
Oversight Audit of world airlines, found serious shortcomings in the SCCA's legal
framework and its licensing and personnel training procedures.
Although the SCCA has suppressed dissemination of the audit's findings since June
1999 due to concerns that Cambodia's domestic airlines "... could use [the audit
results] to say bad things about each other", the audit results have caused
considerable concern among Cambodia's diplomatic community.'
"The [ICAO] report is scary," a Western diplomat in Phnom Penh told the
Post. "It makes you very leery of air travel in this country."
The ICAO audit focused on the SCCA's overall management of Cambodia's civil aviation
industry rather than the operations of the domestic airlines.
The audit was conducted when Cambodia's only domestic airlines were Royal Air Cambodge
and Kampuchea Airlines, which has subsequently gone bankrupt, and before the founding
of both Phnom Penh Airways and President Airlines.
Chea Aun, SCCA's Deputy Director of Operations and Flight Safety, acknowledges that
the ICAO audit report on SCCA operations was highly critical, but insists that the
SCCA is doing the best it can under difficult circumstances.
"We accept the report's [findings], but you have to remember that our country
has just come back from decades of war," he said. "I can assure you flight
safety is our priority and our operations are of international standard."
According to Aun, one of the key criticisms of the ICAO report - that Cambodia lacks
a civil aviation law - has no bearing on the safety of flight operations.
"It's that there's no air law, but you can't say that what we're doing is illegal
because we're operating under a Royal Decree," Aun said.
"The air law and its subdecrees have been written but are still waiting to be
However, the Senior Operations Manager for Royal Air Cambodge (RAC), Anthony Sandford,
said the lack of an official air law created the potential for neglect of essential
operational safety mechanisms by Cambodia's domestic airlines.
"The lack of an air law means that if some [domestic airline] wants to do shortcuts,
the door is wide open," he said.
Of even greater concern to Sandford was ICAO audit's findings on the lack of adequately
trained personnel within SCCA to monitor civil aviation operations.
"The report found that people with responsibility [with SCCA] aren't getting
formal training, and many people within SCCA have no formal training or qualifications
at all," he said.
Sandford cites SCCA's official pilot examiner as an example of personnel with inadequate
qualifications for their positions.
"The examiner - who certifies and issues licenses for pilots - has a military
background," he explained. "How can he know of the needs of civil aviation?"
Aun concedes that ICAO's censure of SCCA's lack of trained personnel was fair, but
blames the situation on a problem familiar throughout the Cambodian bureaucracy:
"Salaries at SCCA are very low, so it's difficult to find people with a lot
of experience and with proper licenses," Aun said.
To compensate for the hiring of inadequately qualified personnel, Aun says the SCCA
runs ongoing and continuous training programs in conjunction with civil aviation
authorities in Thailand, Singapore and France.
Sandford says the SCCA training programs are helping to raise the standard of SCCA
personnel, but that the agencies "shoe-string budget" must be enlarged
in order to effect any meaningful improvement in SCCA operations.
"The available figures show that the SCCA earned $6.8 million in 1998 but received
only $800,000 in operating funds," he said. "The situation won't change
much until the government takes a very serious stance and takes a partner such as
the ADB or UNDP to help pay for consultants to upgrade operations."
An ICAO spokesman contacted by phone at the organization's Bangkok office would not
comment on the results of ICAO's audit of civil aviation safety in Cambodia.