Companies in Talks to Build Helicopter Factory

A U.S.-Korean joint venture is in talks with the government to build a helicopter manufacturing plant and a training facility for helicopter pilots and mechanics, an aviation official and a company representative said this week.

Richard Pak, a representative of South Korean firm Samik Bio Energy Co. Ltd., said the company hopes to construct the facilities near the country’s unused Battambang or Koh Kong provincial airports.

“Our main project is [to] build helicopter manufactur[ing] factory and training school for helicopter [pilots] and training engineer and helicopter mechanic,” Mr. Pak wrote in an email, adding that all the necessary technology and “professional manpower” would be brought from Korea.

Eng Suosdey, undersecretary of state at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), said that Samik Bio Energy and Arlington, Washington-based Helipower Helicopter Inc. started a joint feasibility study of Battambang airport on October 26.

“Korean investors are interested in a Battambang…training center,” said Mr. Suosdey, who was appointed liaison between the state aviation regulator and the firms. “We need to study [it] with the Korean investors.”

A PowerPoint presentation sent to the SSCA by Helipower and Samik Bio Energy advertises the benefits of the recently developed five-seat WorldCopter, which can be mass-produced and uses regular automotive petrol, rather than aviation fuel. It costs $300,000.

With most foreign investment projects in Cambodia concentrated in the garment and, more recently, nascent light-manufacturing sectors, a helicopter factory would be uniquely ambitious.

Mr. Suosdey cautioned that about 70 percent of the aviation-related investments proposed to the SSCA fall through, but he put the chance of the Helipower-Samik project succeeding at “50-50.”

Mr. Suosdey said that he had recommended the companies also consider Koh Kong airport, because families abutting the Battambang runway would have to be relocated to make way for any modifications to the site.

The government announced last month that it would rehabilitate five of Cambodia’s domestic airports, including those in Battambang and Koh Kong, to promote tourism in remote parts of the country. At the time, tourism officials said that private investors would be needed to upgrade and operate the facilities.

Mr. Pak said that Samik Bio Energy had no intention to actually rebuild any airport, and emphasized that what would be required for a factory and training center alone would be significant.

“This is not easy business,” he wrote, adding that the company would need land to build a factory, parts manufacturers, a pilot and mechanic school, a boarding house, and a hangar. He declined to say how much the project might cost.

Helipower Helicopter could not be reached yesterday.

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