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Don’t get mad, get even: Cambodian tycoon plans own airline

August 14, 1997

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ A Cambodian millionaire who once expressed dissatisfaction with the national airline by shooting out a tire on one of its planes now plans to start his own air service.

Teng Bunma, reputedly the country’s richest man, has applied with the Commerce Ministry for a license to start a joint-venture airline with his cousin, a Taiwanese businessman living in the United States, aviation officials said Thursday.

The airline has tentatively been named Apsara Cambodia Air, said Keo Sophal, director general of the State Secretariat for Civil Aviation. He said he did not know the value of the investment, when the operations would begin, or where it would fly.

On at least two occasions, Teng Bunma, who is the president of Cambodia’s Chamber of Commerce, has brandished a pistol to protest airline service he found unsatisfactory.

In April, he shot out the tire of a Royal Air Cambodge jet after it landed at Phnom Penh’s Pochentong Airport.

The tycoon, who was returning from Hong Kong, said that on several occasions the airline lost his luggage, delayed its scheduled takeoff by hours, or charged outrageous prices for overweight luggage.

Last month Teng Bunma boarded an Orient Thai Airlines flight with armed bodyguards and displayed a pistol to the cabin crew, ordering that the flight be delayed until his personal guests arrived.

After the airline’s managing director apologized for inconveniencing him, he said he was sorry he had lost his temper, but he had been under some stress. The plane took off an hour late.

``Internationally speaking, what he has done have been serious offenses,″ said Keo Sophal.

Teng Bunma is a major financial backer of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, who ousted his co-premier in a coup d’etat last month to become the country’s top leader.

The businessman, whose vast holdings include Phnom Penh’s recently opened Intercontinental Hotel, is suspected by the U.S. government of being linked to the narcotics trade.

Keo Sophal said Teng Bunma had not yet applied for a license from the civil aviation authority. Government officials, however, were confident that the license would be approved.

The airline would be the second to start operations since Hun Sen announced last month that the government would adopt an ``open skies″ policy, ending a two-and-half-year monopoly held by Royal Air Cambodge, the national carrier.

Orient Thai, a Thai-owned airline, already received approval to form a joint-venture airline with the government called Kampuchea Airlines.

The new policy, said Keo Sophal, will lead to ``toughen the competition.″

``Everyone has to improve the quality of service,″ he said. ``I can speculate some companies will close because of the competition.″