The military coup and collapse of Cambodia's fragile coalition Government has cast doubt on the future of Royal Air Cambodge (RAC), the country's joint-venture airline with Malaysia Helicopter Services (MHS).

RAC's two Malaysia Airlines (MAS)-owned Boeing 737-400s have been grounded in Kuala Lumpur in the wake of fighting between the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and its former coalition partner, Funcinpec. MHS, which holds a 40% stake in RAC, is waiting to meet the new Hun Sen-led Government to discuss the future of the carrier, says chief operating officer David Chew.

Prime minister Hun Sen's former Communist CPP is known to have been previously hostile to the joint venture, which gave MHS-owned MAS management control of the airline. RAC is also closely associated with the Royalist Funcinpec party of overthrown first prime minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

MAS staff seconded to RAC have been evacuated from Phnom Penh, while some Cambodian executives have fled the country, including the airline's chief executive Vichit Ith, who has gone to Singapore. With many executives now in exile, there will almost certainly be a major shake-up of the national airline by the CPP.

None of the airline's aircraft is understood to have been damaged in the Ìghting around Phnom Penh's Pochentong International Airport. One Boeing 737 en route from Guangzhou in China was diverted to Malaysia after it was refused permission to land in Cambodia, while a second aircraft was used to evacuate Malaysians from the country.

Three ATR 72-210s on lease from Aero International (Regional) are still in Cambodia and are reportedly being operated on limited domestic services to Siem Reap and Battambang. Virtually all international scheduled services to the Cambodian capital have been suspended, apart from Vietnam Airlines flights from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.

Equipment at the airport has been badly damaged by the fighting. The VOR navigation beacon is thought to be out of service, leaving only a non-directional beacon functioning. Looters have also been ransacking the air-traffic control tower and passenger terminal, stealing equipment.

The Cambodian air force's adjoining base has also been the scene of heavy fighting, with several aircraft damaged, including its VIP flight Dassault Falcon 20 and Pilatus Britten-Norman Islander. The status of two recently delivered Aero Vodochody L-39ZAs and two Harbin Y-12s is unknown, while around 12 Mikoyan MiG-21s remain grounded. The air force's only Fokker F28 is now in Indonesia for overhaul.

Source: Flight International