Government’s New Jet Not Purchased but Leased

The day after the government’s new private airliner made its inaugural flight from Phnom Penh In­ternational Airport, senior officials on Friday moved to correct their claims that the French-built Airbus A320 had been purchased outright by the state, saying instead that the 150-seater jet was simply on lease.

Clarifying the ownership status of the Airbus, which retails for about $91.5 million and costs some $8,000 per hour to operate, led business at the weekly Council of Ministers’ meeting on Friday where Prime Minister Hun Sen told his assembled ministers that the plane was leased and not purchased, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said.

Mr. Yeap said that he had erred on Thursday when he told a re­porter that the government had bought the airliner for use by officials and dignitaries.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen confirmed the Airbus plane has been leased, not purchased,” he said.

Mr. Yeap, who is chairman of the National Assembly’s Commission on Economy, Finance, Banking and Audit, said that he could not provide any other details of the Airbus deal as he had not seen the lease agreement.

“I don’t have the lease agreement so I don’t know how much it cost,” he said.

“It is very important to have an Airbus representing our government on flights to other countries,” he added.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said on Friday that questions regarding the Airbus, such as overall costs, maintenance and airport parking fees, should be directed to Mao Havanall, Secretary of State at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA). Mr. Havanall could not be reached for comment and questions sent to Mr. Havanall through his cabinet chief, Long Chheng, were not responded to.

On Thursday, however, Chea Aun, undersecretary of state at the SSCA, said that the secretariat had nothing to do with the procurement of the Airbus.

Funcinpec Executive President Nhiek Bun Chhay issued a statement on Friday clarifying that the Airbus had been leased from a “friendship country,” which he did not name, at a “very cheap price,” which he did not define.

“Leasing the Airbus from a friendship country is to spend less because private companies often charge double the price when we need planes from them,” he said.

Cambodia’s national airline, Cambodia Angkor Air, currently has five aircraft in its budding fleet of jets, including two 67-seat ATR-72 turboprops and three 184-seat Airbus A321 jets.

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