Royal Group Koh Rong Development Co Ltd is partnering up with the civil aviation regulator to move ahead with plans for a 4C-class international airport on Preah Sihanouk province’s Koh Rong island that is expected to be completed “in the next five years”, after more than a decade on the back burner.

A memorandum of agreement (MoA) was penned to this effect on January 18 by State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) chief Mao Havannall and Kith Meng, chairman and CEO of the company, as well as its parent, Royal Group of Companies Ltd.

The document formalises acceptance of the Koh Rong International Eco-Tourism Airport Master Plan and sets out obligations for construction of the facility and associated infrastructure – budgeted for $300 million – involving implementation and orientation, communication, inspection, monitoring, consulting and other forms of communication.

For reference, in the “4C” code designation, the number “4” means that the airport’s runway is longer than 1,800m and the letter “C” signifies that the runway is designed for aircraft with a wingspan of up to but not including 36m, and landing gear where the outside edges of the outermost wheels are less than 9m apart.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Havannall recapped that the government in 2008 granted to the company a “perpetual leasehold” over Koh Rong and “permission in principle” to develop multi-purpose projects on the island.

According to a joint press release issued in conjunction with the ceremony, the lease agreement was signed on February 28 between Royal Group and the Council for the Development of Cambodia, the government’s highest decision-making body for large-scale investments.

Havannall added that the company has the right to develop physical and supporting infrastructure on the leased premises in accordance with the Koh Rong Development Master Plan.

This includes the proposed aviation facility, which is on track to be the fourth greenfield airport in the Kingdom, after Darasakor International Airport, Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport, and Techo International Airport, all of which are invested in by the private sector, he confirmed.

Without elaborating further, Havannall recounted that following inspections, the SSCA had issued authorisation letters No 1006 dated August 17, 2010 and No 363 dated December 14, 2021 concerning the airport’s construction.

He described the MoA signing as an “affirmation of cooperation, and cementing of working relationships at the expert level in an effort to support the development and improvement of airport infrastructure and other supporting facilities”.

Although Royal Group’s Meng had disclosed plans for an airport even back in 2009, he did not offer an explanation at the event for the delays. However, he did mention some of the advancements made on the supporting infrastructure, and predicted that the airport would be completed “in the next five years”.

He commented that the company had brought machinery to the island in July 2009 to build roads and infrastructure on Koh Rong, including a red-gravel way that links to the proposed site of the airport.

The company is also co-investing with state utility Electricite du Cambodge (EDC) in submarine power cables to connect Koh Rong to the mainland, he said, adding that about 60km of transmission lines are being installed on the island.

This project is scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2023 and provide electricity after the Khmer New Year in mid-April, he added.

On July 14, 2020, Royal Group Koh Rong Development and Chinese state-owned Sinohydro Corp Ltd reached a $35 million deal to build a 70km-long, 8m-wide road on Koh Rong. Although Royal Group said then that the road was expected to be finished in 16 months, Meng confirmed that just 50km had been built to date.

The SSCA’s Havannall remarked that the overall Koh Rong Development is in line with government visions, plans, policy, and strategic development direction, and likened the project to Chinese developer Union Development Group’s (UDG) Dara Sakor venture, which he said is a “100 per cent private investment”.

“Royal Group’s participation in the partnership is a positive sign for the long-term growth and sustainability of Cambodia’s economy, especially when it comes to increasing competitiveness in domestic and international air passenger and freight transport, in the context of regional and global economic integration.

“The private sector brings modern technology, innovation, efficiency, transparency and accountability, in line with international best practices, and improves public service delivery and risk management, as well as reduces public spending,” he said.