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Cablegate: Cambodian Air Carrier Banned From Eu

VZCZCXRO5561
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0936 3251050
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 201050Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS PRIORITY 0087
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0137
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS PHNOM PENH 000936

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS AND CA/OCS/ACS/EAP, DEPARTMENT PASS
FOR FAA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR PGOV CASC CB
SUBJECT: CAMBODIAN AIR CARRIER BANNED FROM EU

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. PROPRIETARY INFORMATION.

1. (SBU) Summary: The European Commission's recent decision
to ban Siem Reap Airways from operating within Europe
highlights significant concerns about air safety conditions
in Cambodia. Future USG assistance targeting the civil
aviation authorities could help to improve Cambodia's ability
to exercise air safety oversight. The Mission is reviewing
its policy towards domestic air travel and will consult with
Consular Affairs. End Summary.

2. (U) The European Commission (EC) announced November 14 a
ban on Cambodia's Siem Reap Airways International (SRA) (a
subsidiary of Bangkok Airways (BA)) from European Union (EU)
airspace due to findings that "the airline does not operate
in compliance with the Cambodian safety regulations nor does
it meet the standards of the International Civil Aviation
Organization (ICAO). Significant concerns have also been
expressed by ICAO with regard to the ability of Cambodian
civil aviation authorities to implement and enforce the
international safety standards."

3. (U) The ban follows an ICAO safety oversight audit
conducted in late 2007 which found that Cambodia was only 27
percent compliant with international aviation rules and
regulations, one of the lowest scores ever. Cambodian
authorities were presented with an opportunity to present
their action plan and progress in implementing corrective
measures in July and at a November 4 meeting; however, the EC
deemed Cambodia's efforts to correct the safety deficiencies
to be insufficient. The measure seems mostly symbolic as
Siem Reap Airways does not currently fly to any EU
destinations. The airlines operates domestic flights between
Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and also flies internationally to
Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.

4. (SBU) SRA countered on November 17 that the EU ban does
not apply to its aircraft because none of its planes are
registered in Cambodia. Rather, all SRA aircraft are
registered in Thailand and wet leased from BA (which provides
aircraft, crew, and maintenance.) SRA General Manager Santi
Laonikakara shared with emboffs a November letter from the
Thai Department of Civil Aviation asserting their
jurisdiction over the leased aircraft. Santi claimed all SRA
leased aircraft travel back to Bangkok every three to five
days and undergo regular maintenance there.

5. (SBU) However, according to the EC representative in Phnom
Penh responsible for this issue, the ban applies to all
aircraft for which the Cambodian authorities issue an Air
Operating Certificate (AOC), regardless of where the
airplanes are registered. Under international law, the
authority which issues the operating certificate is
responsible for exercising safety oversight. Foreign
airlines, such as Singapore Airlines or Korean Air, operate
in Cambodia through Air Service Agreements or Memorandums of
Understanding and are registered in their home countries,
with operating certificates from those jurisdictions.
Cambodian authorities do not have safety oversight
responsibilities for these airlines.

6. (SBU) The main issue appears to be of a more technical
nature regarding the wet lease arrangement between SRA and
BA. The Director General of Civil Aviation, Mr. Chea Aun,
explained that BA and SRA failed to clearly identify and
distinguish which BA aircraft were to be used by SRA. There
are concerns that the resulting blurring of responsibility
for oversight has created the possibility that some
SRA-operated aircraft are registered in neither Thailand nor
Cambodia, raising serious concerns about safety oversight for
those aircraft. This, we are told, is a main reason for the
EU decision.

7. (SBU) Given the poor rating of Cambodia's safety oversight
in the ICAO audit, the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority is
planning a visit to Cambodia early next month to identify
possible areas for technical assistance to the State
Secretariat for Civil Aviation to improve their ability to
implement and enforce international aviation safety
standards. The Mission is currently reviewing its policy
regarding use of SRA and will consult with Consular Affairs.
RODLEY

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