Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Red flag raised on air safety

Red flag raised on air safety

Red flag raised on air safety

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

passed."

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:

money.

"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.

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