How safe is Cambodia’s airline?

Below average. The air safety infrastructure lets the ratings down.

Below average. The air safety infrastructure lets the ratings down.

You can find everything on the web, and recently a friend of mine, Dennis Weng, and I were discussing airline safety. He’s a statistician and we were discussing international standards. The conversation led me to the Airline Ratings Website which posts a safety rating out of 7 for every significant airline in the world. Cambodia Angkor Air gets a…er…3 out of 7.

Admittedly the audit was updated as far back as 2009, almost 6 years ago, so things have doubtless improved. What really pulls the safety rating downward is the poor Cambodian infrastructure. Should a plane go down there is inadequate air accident investigation resource, and as it stands, a weak air navigation network and emergency response at the airports.

Still things could be worse. In 2004 I flew out of Phnom Penh airport. They had an amnesty bin in which travellers could drop pocket knives or other items deemed unfit for air travel. Right there is the perspex container I saw it: an old hand grenade, found apparently by an American hippie tourist who thought it would make a great souvenir.

Imagine sitting on a plane next to that guy!

The 7 star safety assessment criteria for all airlines is as follows

Is the airline IOSA certified? If yes two stars are awarded; if not, no star is given.
What is IOSA Certification? The IATA* Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification audit is an internationally recognised and accepted evaluation system designed to assess the operational management and control systems of an airline. IOSA uses internationally recognised audit principles and is designed to conduct audits in a standardised and consistent manner. Airlines are re evaluated every two years. Registering for IOSA certification and auditing is not mandatory therefore an airline that does not have IOSA certification may have either failed the IOSA audit or alternatively chosen not to participate. *IATA (International Air Transport Association)

Is the airline on the European Union (EU) Blacklist? If no a full star is awarded; if yes then no star is given.
What is the EU Blacklist? A list of airlines banned from flying into European airspace due to safety concerns arising from alleged poor aircraft maintenance and/or regulatory oversight. Airlines banned by the EU may have a flawless safety record however the potential risk towards passenger safety is deemed by the EU as too high and a ban is put in place

Has the airline maintained a fatality free record for the past 10 years? If yes the airline are awarded a full star; if not then no star is given.
A fatality is deemed as the death of crew and/or passengers whilst on board the aircraft due to an accident. If deaths occurred through acts of terrorism or highjackings they have not been included. If an airline suffered a fatal accident through no fault of their own such as a runway incursion on the active runway (an incident where an unauthorized aircraft, vehicle or person is on a runway) this has also not been included.

Is the airline FAA endorsed? If yes a full star is awarded; if not, no star is given.
What is FAA endorsement? In the United States, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has a list that bans countries (not airlines) from flying into American Airspace. The ban arises from a deemed inability to adhere to international aviation standards for aircraft operations and maintenance. According to the FAA Web site, “those that do not meet these international standards cannot initiate new service and are restricted to current levels of any existing service to the United States while corrective actions are underway.” An airline or airlines from a prohibited country may have a flawless safety record however the potential risk to safety is deemed too high by the FAA to allow operations in American airspace.

Does the country of airline origin meet all 8 ICAO safety parameters? If yes TWO stars are awarded to the airline. However, if the one criteria that is below the average is so by less than 15 per cent it is considered a pass. If 5 to 7 of the criteria are met one star is awarded. If the country only meets up to four criteria no star is given.
What is ICAO and what are the 8 parameters? The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was created to promote the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation throughout the world. It sets standards and regulations necessary for aviation safety, security, efficiency and regularity, as well as for aviation environmental protection. The 8 ICAO audit parameters that pertain to safety are; Legislation, Organization, Licensing, Operations, Airworthiness, Accident Investigation, Air Navigation Service and Aerodromes. For more information on a particular country visit:

Has the airline’s fleet been grounded by the country’s governing aviation safety authority due to safety concerns? If yes an additional star will be taken off the total for five years from the time of grounding

Does the airline operate only Russian built aircraft? If yes an additional star will be taken off the total.
– See more at:

Road safety in Cambodia – is it getting even worse?


The photo above was published in the Phnom Penh Post following a tragic road accident in which the driver of this van was killed. The van itself was carrying more than half a dozen factory workers time, and it is lucky that there were no other losses of life. But look at that photo.To me it encapsulates several reasons why road safety in Cambodia is appalling at best, and showing signs of getting worse due to the rapidly increasing numbers of motor vehicles on the roads. (Today there are more than 1.7 million 4 wheeled light vehicles and around 1.5 million motorbikes and tuktuks.)

There are many reasons why road safety produces such bad statistics for Cambodia. In the year 2012 almost 2000 people died in traffic accidents, a figure that was double that from seven years previous. According to one report from the Voice of America, traffic fatalities in Cambodia account than nine times the number of deaths from malaria, dengue fever, HIV and AIDS put together. On a typical holiday weekend Cambodia can expect to lose between 30 and 50 lives.

Of the deaths, 80% are males and half are aged 15-29 years old.

Here are some of the causes – or issues that need addressing:

  • Driver attitudes. This encompasses poor driver training, the notable presence of drunken drivers, as well is the characteristic high speed “get out of my way” stubbornness that seems prevalent on Cambodian roads. By government reckoning, 96% of Cambodia’s road accidents come from human error.
  • A second cause for the bad chemistry is the mixed usage of roads by a wide variety of pedestrians, cyclists, motorbikes, cars, heavy trucks – but also by non-transport users including children at play, wandering livestock and the presence of roadside stalls.
  • The third cause for the high road toll is the way vehicles are over-utilised. Visitors to Cambodia are always amazed to see entire family’s poised on a motorbike, or to see flatbed trucks populated with no fewer than 40 passengers piled on top of cargo goods. When one of these vehicles has an accident the risks are multiplied.
  • A fourth contributor to the high road toll is the compliance with road safety practices such as the wearing of seat belts in cars and trucks, or the wearing of helmets by cyclists and motorcyclists.2012 pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcycle riders accounted for 83% of fatalities. Figures from 2010 suggested that just 65% of motorcyclists were wearing helmets, and only 9% of passengers were wearing helmets. And while there are laws that ban driving while using a handheld mobile phone compliance with this is not consistent.
  • The fifth contributor is the poor standard of vehicles themselves. Often these cheap and elderly imports, second-hand from other countries. Compounding this problem is the fact that so many vehicles are so poorly maintained.
  • Finally there is only a weak emergency assistance infrastructure with between 11% and 49% of accident victims receiving ambulance attendance.

Is the picture getting worse? It depends on how you look at it. On the one hand the rate of fatalities per million kilometers of travel appears to be dropping slightly thanks to improved roading and the introduction of some basic safety measures. The government is likely to be stricter at enforcing helmet wearing for example.

But in raw terms, the sheer number of deaths, the chart keeps pointing upwards. In 2001 there were just four deaths per hundred thousand people in Cambodia. By 2010 the figure had risen threefold to just over 12 deaths per hundred thousand people.

Of course this has social costs quite apart from the grief when a family member, friend or colleague is killed. A death or injury can easily make the difference between a family making its way versus being destitute.

Road safety specialists from overseas put a cost on traffic fatalities, and in Cambodia they suggest this is costing the country the equivalent of 3.5% of GDP. Put in those terms it is perhaps no surprise that the government is prioritising road safety. It’s initiatives tend to focus on compliance, so Cambodians can expect a police force more vigilant toward helmet usage and possibly random breath testing.

When you look at the list of causes of poor road safety in Cambodia, it is hard not to see that a big underlying reason is poverty. It is poverty that puts 30 or more people on the back of the truck. It is poverty that prevents the owner of that truck from investing sufficiently in the maintenance and upkeep of the truck’s mechanicals. It is not enough to say the rule breakers are the main cause of road fatalities in this developing nation. But perhaps it is a start.

PS. Below. Thank you to sponsor Kim Deane for donating helmets for the senior students supported by Savong. These students navigate the busy roads in Siem Reap.


Road safety irony at work – fancy a Suzuki Smash?

Suzuki Safety Method


The number one selling motorbike in Cambodia is the Honda Dream. It has a great reputation for reliability, economy and value. Up against it in the market is the offering from Suzuki. Look at the name they’ve given to their 110cc market entry. I can’t help feeling that any motorbike named Smash will never have great karma either for the brand, or the bike’s owner.  I think I ‘d prefer to live the Dream than ride the Smash.

For more about the project I’m involved with: click here.