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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Air traffic continues to soar at nation’s airports

A plane takes off from Phnom Penh International Airport in 2013.
A plane takes off from Phnom Penh International Airport in 2013. Heng Chivoan

Air traffic continues to soar at nation’s airports

Passenger and cargo traffic continues to grow at the Kingdom’s three international airports, which handled a record number of passengers in the first three months of the year, according to Cambodia Airports, the French-owned company that operates the three airports.

Airports in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville received over 2 million passengers between January and March, an increase of 4.9 per cent over the same period last year, Cambodia Airports said in its latest monthly newsletter. Total flight movements topped 20,000 during the period, a 6.6 year-on-year increase.

The biggest increases were observed in Phnom Penh, where passenger throughput grew 10.1 per cent to 863,000 during the first quarter of the year on more air connectivity.

Siem Reap saw a modest 1.3 per cent year-on-year increase during the period, handling in excess of 1 million passengers, while Sihanoukville saw a 1.6 per cent decline in passenger traffic despite 33.8 per cent more flight movements.

Pichr Sopontara, routes development manager at Cambodia Airports, said based on the early figures, the Kingdom’s airports can expect to handle well over 6 million passengers by the end of the year.

“Previously we had 28 airlines flying to Cambodia, but right now we have 30 airlines flying and more to come,” he said. “For us, we always expect the number [of passengers handled] to keep increasing.”

Meanwhile, Cambodia Airports reported a surge in cargo traffic, which increased by 18.4 per cent to 10,477 tonnes during the first three months of 2016, compared to a year earlier.

“We are surprised that cargo movements have increased significantly compared to last year,” Sopontara said.

“We see that there are more cargo flights as export demand to the EU and US has increased while we are also handling more imports.”

Phnom Penh’s cargo terminal saw 17.3 per cent growth in cargo tonnage during the period, while Siem Reap handled a staggering 141.8 per cent more cargo tonnage during the period – the result of starting from a low base.

The growth in air traffic is driving plans to expand airport capacity.

Last week, Malaysian-based Muhibbah Engineering, which holds a 30 per cent stake in Cambodia Airports, announced that it would invest $23 million to build a new domestic terminal in Phnom Penh to free up space at the existing terminal for international arrivals. The project is expected to be completed in 2017.

Sopontara said construction on the new terminal is slated to begin in July and aims to increase the capacity of the capital’s airport to 5 million domestic and international arrivals a year.

“Previously, the airport could handle only 2.5 million passengers, but last year passenger arrivals reached 3 million, so we need to expand,” he said.

Sopontara confirmed that there was no plan to build a second runway at the airport or extend the existing one, adding that the airport was already capable of handling large aircraft.



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Don Rennie's picture

Dear Chandara,

There is a bigger picture that no one talks about: This airport will become inferior soon. The airport has only one runway (mediocre for an International Airport) and the airport location is near the center of the city creating aircraft noise and traffic congestion issues. Furthermore, the airport land is limited in size.

PNH International airport saw a 10% increase in traffic in the first quarter of 2016. At this rate, passenger totals will double in 10 years.

In 10-20-30 years, this airport will lose its usefulness and become so crowded that a new airport should be planned for NOW. Has the government selected a new site? No way. This government does not know how to look into the future to solve problems.

Critical thinking demands looking into the future to mitigate and limit current problems. The expressway idea was merely a band-aid approach to traffic congestion along Russian Blvd. and not useful to the city of Phnom Penh in the long run.

Find a new airport site that can accommodate two runways and passenger terminals that will be useful for decades to come. The new site might be located near highways 3, 4, or 6. Maybe other locations will be deemed more suitable.

Think ahead. For example, consider Vietnam. They want to build an airport 40 km from Saigon. Good thinking. Japan has expressed interest in providing ODA assistance for the project.

But first, the government should commission a master planner to study options for a new airport location that can be put into commercial use in 20 years. This means construction begins in 15 years. This means the land must be clear of people in 14 years. The current airport land can be sold to developers to partially pay for a new airport.

Is the current government smart enough to do this? I do not think so. Let's see.