Plans are in place for a new $10 million international airport on Koh Rong island, but questions remain as to when construction would commence and when funding would be available.
Designs for the roughly 7,200-square-metre airport terminal, which will consist of Khmer- and resort-style architecture, were completed two years ago, said Edward Billson, managing director of MAP Architects, a Hong Kong-based firm that is handling Koh Rong’s master plan.
With 2,650 metres of runway, even bigger planes like the Airbus A321 will be able to land. The airport will be located in the centre of Koh Rong, which is the only area on the island with flat land, Billson said.
But construction, which will take two years, can only start “when the funding is arranged”, he added.
The airport is part of the first phase of Koh Rong’s development plans, which also includes establishing luxury resorts. With 28 beaches, Koh Rong has been billed as Asia’s next big island destination.
But the developer, local conglomerate Royal Group, is still sourcing for investments for the island, said Billson.
Royal Group was granted a 99-year lease in 2008 from the government to develop the 78-square-kilometre island, along with its partner, Hong Kong real estate company Millennium Group.
Millennium Group then dropped out “a long time ago”, said Royal Group’s chief finance officer, Mark Hanna. According to another source familiar with the project, “both parties were not getting along with each other [mainly due to] a lack of ability to attract funding in a timely manner.”
Billson said he was not aware of how much money had been raised so far. “[The island] is a big project and will take a long time to complete development,” he said.
But funding, if slow, appears to be on the right track. Royal Group told him last year that the airport would be operational in the next five to 10 years, Billson said. Officials at Royal Group, including Chairman Kith Meng, declined to comment when contacted by the Post.
Earlier this week, Royal Group established a joint venture to launch a new national carrier called Cambodia Airlines. If the airport is launched, the airline would “of course” fly to Koh Rong, with flights from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh “definitely a possibility”, said Hanna.
According to Billson, the airport hopes to attract direct flights from Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore, because “that is where investors have money and would be interested in setting up villas in Koh Rong”.
But not all feel the airport is a good idea. Managing director of Koh Rong Dive Centre, Sakip Capal, said, “[The airport is the] wrong project, as we do not need an international airport – we already have one at Sihanoukville [about 40 kilometres away].”
Instead, Royal Group should invest in faster boats so that visitors can be ferried from Sihanoukville – the main portal to Koh Rong – in half an hour, he added. Currently the ferries take two hours.