Renovation work on Sihanouk International Airport will commence on Saturday, with the expansion of the airport’s runway and terminal building aimed at increasing its capacity to handle up to 500,000 passengers a year.
Khek Norinda, communications director of Cambodia Airports, the French company that holds a concession to operate the Kingdom’s three international airports through 2040, said the upgrades aim at accommodating the rapid growth of passenger traffic.
“The facilities upgrade program has been designed to cope with current solid passenger arrivals and in anticipation of their continued growth,” he said.
The current airport terminal dates back to 2007 when just 2 million foreign tourists a year visited Cambodia, and only a trickle of air traffic served Sihanoukville’s airstrip.
Last year, more than 4.8 million tourists visited the Kingdom, with throughput at Sihanouk International Airport growing 118 percent to 94,630 passengers.
In October, the airport broke the 100,000 passenger a year mark for the first time and appeared on course to serve a projected 150,000 passengers in 2016.
It was a significant milestone, not only for the airport’s growth trajectory, but also as this was maximum capacity its current facilities were built for. By 2020 aviation officials expect the airport to receive up to 500,000 passengers a year – provided it can handle the increased air traffic.
According to Norinda, the renovation work is being carried out as part of a $2 billion investment to develop the Kingdom’s three international airports through 2040. The main component of the project is the full renovation of the existing passenger terminal building, which will increase its floor space by 80 percent to 4,800 square metres.
“The added surface will contribute in improving the overall airport experience by, in particular, speeding up the airport process – check-in, boarding, baggage delivery, etc – and with the introduction of new shops, food and beverage outlets, and services,” he said.
Work will also be carried out to strengthen and widen the airport’s single 2,500-metre-long runway, and will include a new taxiway “to improve airside capacity and accommodate larger aircraft”. A plan to extend the runway will also be studied.
Sinn Chanserey Vutha, spokesman of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, said while the runway was long enough to handle even large aircraft, such as a Boeing 737, its tarmac was not sufficiently equipped and the existing taxiway did not provide enough room for these aircraft to manoeuvre.
“The expansion plan will [increase the airport’s capacity] to handle huge aircraft from European and Australia, as [the runway] will be able to handle at least 80 tonnes and these aircraft will able to use the taxiway,” he said.
According to Cambodia Airports, the terminal and runway expansions are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2017 or early 2018.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the UN agency that regulates the safety and security of air transportation, said an inspection of the renovated airport would not be required before handling larger aircraft.
“ICAO does not carry out any inspection of ongoing or completed expansion works at airports,” its Asia and Pacific Office said in a statement.