The United Nations has forbidden its employees to fly on Cambodia-based PMT Air, the only airline currently servicing the remote northeast province of Ratanakkiri, according to a copy of the order obtained Friday.
“Security clearance for staff traveling on PMT Airlines…will be denied,” an email to UN staff reads. “The flight safety score is not acceptable.” The email dated Thursday also forbids staff from travelling on PMT for personal reasons or when on holiday.
Thomas Keusters, the World Food Program country director and UN point-person on staff flight safety, said the decision was not made because of a crash in November of a PMT-leased aircraft in Banlung, the capital of Ratanakkiri province, in which there were no serious injuries.
“The rating was done by an independent body and reflects overall safety,” Keusters said.
The aircraft that crashed off the runway on landing in Banlung was on loan from Royal Phnom Penh Airways, which Keusters said is still an authorized airline for UN employees. He declined to say if other airlines operating in Cambodia have been judged unfit for UN personnel.
UN programs have not been affected by the ban, Keusters added. “You can drive to Ratanakkiri,” he noted.
PMT Airlines Director Sar Sareth rejected the UN assessment of his airline. “If we did not live up to international standards, the government would not allow us to fly,” Sar Sareth said. “The UN did not get enough information about PMT before making this decision,” he said, adding that passengers have nothing to fear about flying PMT.
“PMT takes full responsibility for their safety,” he said.
Pierre-Yves Clais, the owner of the Terres Rouges Lodge in Banlung town, said tourists are still visiting the northeastern province but there are concerns about the reliability of the aircraft ferrying visitors from Phnom Penh. “We are not worried about less tourists, we are worried about tourists disappearing in a crash,” Clais said.
“These are good aircraft but they are old and need a solid maintenance system,” he said.