Mao Havanall, the Secretary of State for Civil Aviation, likes talking more than
anything else about his years as a MiG-21 pilot in the 1980s.
Secretary of State for Civil Aviation Mao Havanall now sits in the comfortable confines of an office, piloting nothing more complex than a personal computer. As a pilot for the Royal Cambodian Air Force in the 80s, Havanall spent hundreds of hours cramped inside the tiny cockpit of a Russian-made Mikoyan and Gurevich (MiG) jet fighter. These days, he admits, he could no longer pilot the aircraft. "It's not like riding a bicycle," he says.
It was 12 years ago that he last flew the MiG-21, and although the memories are as
clear as yesterday, he says he could not fly the supersonic fighter today. "It's
not like riding a bicycle."
The MiG-21 reached speeds in excess of Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) and was
designed for air-to-air combat, usually carrying a 23mm cannon and two missiles.
Havanall clocked over 400 hours in one.
"I trained as a MiG pilot in Russia from 1984, for three years, flying for the
Royal Cambodian Air Force. We never did real combat flying.
"After Russia we stayed in Vietnam for two years, till mid-1989, then flew in
Cambodia till 1992 when UNTAC came and grounded all the aircraft."
After the 1993 elections the first mandate government sent him to Thailand for one
year to upgrade to a civilian flying license. "I then flew for the VIP squadron,
carrying presidents and kings around. I flew the Falcon 20 and Fokker 28."
A younger Havanall poses with his unit, RCAF Squadron 701, on the Phnom Penh tarmac after returning from Bien Hoa, Vietnam, in mid-1989. An RCAF MiG-21 can been spotted in the background. Colonel Havanall is standing at center rear wearing a flying helmet.
His RCAF 701 Squadron operated 21 MiGs, and they were owned by the Cambodian Government,
not leased or loaned. He says they are stored at Phnom Penh Airport and two are still
in flying condition.
Havanall tries to get some prop-flying time in at weekends, and often it may be in
Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh's personal aircraft with the prince sharing
the flying. "He's a very good pilot, although he is not yet licensed. He trained
when he was younger."
Ranariddh's aircraft was a twin-engine Cessna 421 but that has been sold and will
shortly be replaced by a Cessna FT-337 GP, with push and pull engines (i.e. it has
one pulling from the front, the other pushing from the rear).
During the week, Havanall mostly flies a desk at the secretariat offices on Norodom
Blvd. He does not find the job boring, even though to an outsider the daily routine
and agenda may seem mundane, dominated by regulatory tasks.
"I like the job very much. I like anything to do with aircraft," says Havanall,
who became Secretary of State on July 21 after four years as under-secretary.
Havanall and his staff have been waiting a long time for the passing of an Aviation
"In the first mandate we submitted the draft to National Assembly, then the
1997 conflict was a setback, and the documents all came back. For the second mandate
we tried to reform and update the draft. Now we are still waiting. The law prescribes
regulations to govern aviation standards, safety and operations and brings us into
line with other countries. It also establishes a Court of Aviation. The law is not
vital as we can regulate by government decree, but we do hope the assembly will adopt
the law by the end of 2004 or early 2005."
The Post spoke to Havanall recently about violitility in the industry, the short
lives airline companies often live in Cambodia and the lack of progress in the government's
'open skies' policy.
Post: Why have so many Cambodian domestic airlines failed (Royal Air Cambodge, Mekong
Airlines, First Cambodia); is it too easy to get an operating certificate, just a
$500 fee and a few simple questions?
Havanall: Probably lack of money. They need enough capital to sustain losses for
maybe a year. They do their own thing; it's not our responsibility. The Aircraft
Operating Certificate has to be approved by the government. They are not just issued.
Mekong Airlines had one aircraft and they were caught by SARS, then terrorism (and)
passenger numbers dropped. They had to put fares up. They couldn't cover their costs.
First Cambodia Airlines - I heard the owner of the aircraft wanted to take it back
and the manager has told me he will find a new aircraft. They had an Airbus 320 and
want to change to Boeing 737 for international, and one or two turboprops for domestic
Post: How has President Airlines survived?
Havanall: They have the passengers from Taipei, three times per week, through a connecting
flight to Siem Reap and Bangkok. They still owe money. They struggle but they keep
Post: There have been complaints that the increased number of direct international
flights going to Siem Reap is affecting the viability of domestic operators.
Havanall: Malaysia and Silkair fly direct to SR, stop one hour and take international
passengers back to their home base. They cannot go via Phnom Penh. They have no right
to carry domestic passengers.
Post: Routes were supposed to be deregulated under the government's 'open skies'
policy, but the Siem Reap-Bangkok route is said to be a sweetheart arrangement favouring
Havanall: The government has allowed just two companies on that route. Bangkok Air/Siem
Reap Air and Royal Air Cambodge (which ceased operating three years ago as the government's
national carrier). That was a government decision, not Civil Aviation's. I don't
[The Secretariat was unable to supply a copy of the Open Skies Policy, but cabinet
chief Him Sarun explained that under the policy direct flights to Siem Reap were
allowed from any destination, subject to meeting regulatory and technical requirements.
Bangkok Air/Siem Reap Air were required to make a royalty payment per flight in return
for exclusivity on the Bangkok route, also Vietnam Airlines on flights into SR. This
was based on aircraft type, weight and capacity and as an example, Vietnam Air paid
the following royalties: A320 $2,000, Fokker F-70 $750, ATR-70 $500.]
Post: Is it correct the government is investigating starting a new national carrier
in a joint venture with Phuket Air? Governments around the world are quitting airline
operations and some are seeing this as very negative step as the government has a
dismal record of airline management.
Havanall: We have heard about this, but seen nothing official. We are waiting for
an official approach. It's not a negative move for our government; even a small country
should have its own carrier. But this is a government issue; it's not for the Secretariat
of Civil Aviation. Risk management is not our problem.
Post: What comprises the bulk of your work?
Havanall: Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports, ensuring daily operations meet the regulated
requirements. We watch that aircraft flying in or out have permission and pay the
appropriate fees. Unscheduled landing permission is controlled by written requests.
For example, if the Thai Air Force wants to land they have to request through the
diplomatic channel and we give written approval for a particular date.