Rules and Regulations

17 Feb

David is building an airfield.

He has five planes waiting to go, two in Thailand, two en route, one awaiting release in Sihanoukville. So he spends most days in the guesthouse restaurant, one hand on his mobile, the other on his laptop, waiting for the results of his bakhsheesh to kick in.


“I’ve put plenty of oil in the machine,” he says. “I’ve put enough oil into the machine to send it into hyperdrive. It’s just making sure you oil the right wheels.”

When the right wheels are fully oiled, and Chinese New Year is through, he’s hoping to have a fleet of Microlights, taking tourists over Angkor Wat and the other great buildings around Siem Reap, one-on-one in a fragile plane, 30-minute flights at 100mph, just you, the pilot, the elements and Jayurvarman VII’s immortal follies, at $45 a pop.

“I used to fly Cessnas,” he says. “But I’ve always been into convertible cars, the view, the visibility, the breeze in your face. And, like a lot of people, I thought Microlights were lawnmowers with a glider stuck on top. Then, one day at an airfield near Bury St. Edmunds, a guy brought his Microlight into land.”

“He could see me looking at him the way that Cessna pilots look at Microlight pilots. So he said, basically, ‘Fancy a quick spin in a lawnmower?'” he recalls. “We were a hundred feet off the ground, and I was hooked. You could see everything. It’s all about the visibility.”

David has everything ready to go. He’s bought the land, the laterite for the runway, the steel and corrugated iron for the hangar. He’s sourced bulldozers, motivated workmen and, of course, the planes. Oh, and in his downtime he’s been knocking up houses for the deserving poor.

The problem is the insurance. “It was all going swimmingly to start off with,” he says. “I had a meeting with the right people. I explained to them that we wouldn’t fly directly over the temples, that we’d keep our noise down over populated areas, then ran through the plans for the airfield.”

The powers-that-be nodded and smiled encouragingly. Great, said David, in effect. Now please can I have my aviation operator’s license?

The authorities looked a little confused.

In Cambodia, there is no such thing as an aviation operator’s license. There are, quite literally, neither rules nor regulations which govern who can put a plane up in the air — or who can’t — no routine safety standards, let alone persons to police them, while pilots’ licenses are as redundant and pointless as driving licenses on the richly populated, yet mercifully slow-paced roads.

One would think that for an entrepreneur like David, this would be a jolly good thing.

Except, as an aviation operator, particularly one transporting the precious bodies of wealthy tourists, one requires insurance. And insurers won’t touch someone without due certification proving they meet the legal standards of their country of operation.

In Cambodia, there are no legal standards. Ergo, no insurance.

So David has spent the last three months “adapting” the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s rules and having them translated into Khmer by his Oxford-educated assistant.

The wheels duly oiled, he is awaiting signatures to transform the rules to law, then further signatures, and perhaps a custom stamp, to transform the law into certificates, the country’s very first.

And awaiting. And awaiting.

And waiting a bit more.

David had a big meeting in Phnom Penh the other day, woken at ten from an acute hangover by the office of a high-up in the ruling party, and apparently things are finally starting to move.

“Mum!” says Z, who has torn himself away from computer games (we are having a day of downtime, our initial plan of cycling 30k or so to and round the temples having been kiboshed by some tummy stuff). “Can I fly a plane when I’m grown up?”

“Well,” I say. “You’ll need a very good job. Or to be something like a rockstar, or a film director.”

“Then again,” says David, whose wife and he have nine children (a first family each, then a second between the two). “If you work very, very hard at school, you can come and pilot Microlights for me.”

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