PM: Air Cambodge Is Dead

The hearts of unemployed pilots and ground staff sank when Prime Minister Hun Sen announced last week that the government has no plans to get Royal Air Cambodge back up in the skies.

Hun Sen instead praised private airline companies for their services, especially bringing tourists to the country.

“Royal Air Cambodge died,” Hun Sen said Thursday at the opening of the Mong Reth­thy port in Koh Kong province’s Sre Amble district. “I have wished for Royal Air Cambodge to die for a long time, because after only a few years, it was in debt several million [dollars] that we have not yet paid.”

“If we think we will only benefit from the Royal Air Cambodge, we make a big mistake with the national economy,” he said. “Our problem is to draw more tourists, so I don’t care which companies bring the tourists to the country.”

“If it collapsed, let it remain collapsed. I do not care. The important thing is that any planes can bring tourists.”

Both the government and local people benefit greatly from private airlines, Hun Sen said.

But Royal Air Cambodge pilots, still hopeful that they would be back in the cockpit after their operations were suspended in 2001, were disappointed with Hun Sen’s announcement.

Many have decades of flying experience as well as education in foreign countries but now cannot find work. Some have alleged po­litical motivation as many employees and a former manager of Air Cambodge were affiliated with Funcinpec, they said. “We were waiting three years to get the jobs,” said former pilot Matt Sothi. “Now [Hun Sen] an­noun­ced it like that, it makes us hope­less.”

He said the government has treated its former employees irresponsibly by allowing private companies to take over the work of the national airline carrier.

Nint Sangream, another ex-staff member, said many pilots and others who worked for Royal Air Cambodge are now unemployed or working as motorbike taxi drivers.

“[Hun Sen’s] announcement means that our jobs are finished,” Nint Sangream said. “We are very disappointed.”


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