For PMT Air, High Hopes of Flying High

With the government suspension of PMT Air flights expiring this Monday, the troubled airline says it has high hopes that it will once again be allowed to take to Cambodia’s skies.

“I am seeking to reopen my business as soon as possible and am hopeful the [State Secretariat of Civil Aviation] will give me the green light soon,” PMT Air Dir-

ector Sar Sareth said by telephone Wednesday.

In October 2008, the State Sec-

retariat of Civil Aviation suspended PMT’s air operator’s certificate for safety violations following an investigation into its June 25, 2007 crash in Kampot province that left 22 dead: 13 South Koreans, five Cambodians, three Czechs and an Uzbek pilot.

Though officials at the time blamed the weather for the crash, it was later revealed that the pilot had ignored air traffic control warnings that he was flying too low enroute from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville airport. The crashed aircraft, which took days to find in the jungled mountains between Kampot and Sihanoukville, was a nearly 40-year-old Russian-made Antonov An-24 twin-propeller plane that can hold up to 50 passengers.

“We needed to make changes to fit both local and international requirements, otherwise other country’s would not allow our plane to fly into their countries,” PMT`s Sar Sareth added. He declined to elaborate as to what changes needed to be made, but said that PMT would soon submit its application to have the SSCA suspension lifted.

The families, however, of those who died in PMT`s June 2007 crash have yet to receive compensation for their losses, and no one at the airline, the SSCA or family members know which insurance company should be dealt with.

Sar Sareth said he could not remember the name of the insurer, adding “families of those victims could not meet the insurance company because that company is based in New York.”

In October 2007 he claimed the insurer was Lloyd’s of London, an assertion that was denied by the company. In September 2008 Sar Sareth claimed the insurer was based in the US. On Wednesday he gave a very vague hint, saying it would be easy to figure out the insurance company because it was the only one in the city of New York.

“The last time we contacted PMT Air was in September last year,” An Sim, a cousin of stewardess Top Chanthou who died in the crash, said by telephone, adding that she has heard nothing from the company since regarding compensation.

“I am really exhausted from trying to find the insurance company so I can get compensation,” Chan Sith, the widow of pilot Hean Chandara, said by phone, adding she had gone to the company in February and was told she would be compensated.

Sar Sareth said he thinks the delay in paying compensation may be due to the victims’ lawyers negotiating with the insurance company over the amount of compensation.

“I frequently contact the insurance company and push them to pay compensation for the victims’ families as soon as possible as my company had paid the annual insurance for the passengers and others in the insurance plan,” he said.

Officials at the South Korean Embassy could not be reached by telephone and did not respond to e-mailed questions.

Say Sokhan, undersecretary of state at the SSCA, said Wednesday at the SSCA office that he does not know which insurance company covered the June 2007 flight. When asked if PMT Air will be allowed to fly again, Say Sokhan said only, “I have not seen the application form seeking a license yet.”

PMT Air had trouble with its planes well before the June 2007 fatal crash.

In May 2006 a PMT Air Antonov An-24 lost power in its right engine on a flight to Ratanakkiri Province with 20 passengers on board and had to return to Phnom Penh. It was later attributed to the carelessness of a mechanic.

In November 2005 PMT Air chartered a Y7-100c, a Chinese-made aircraft, that blew a tire on landing at the Banlung Airport causing injuries to two passengers. That incident resulted in the UN banning its employees from flying with PMT Air.

In October 2007, the SSCA grounded all Antonov aircraft to when an Imtrec Aviation Antonov cargo plane crash-landed in Kandal province injuring crewmembers and a passenger.

 

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