The government is looking to build a light rail line, potentially underground, that would run from the currently under-construction Techo International Airport (TIA) to Phnom Penh, possibly with a station at or near AEON MALL Mean Chey – popularly known as AEON 3 – in a bid to bolster tourism.

Ministry of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol disclosed this at an inauguration ceremony late last week for the latest of the ministry’s public service centres, at the southern Phnom Penh mall.

Although a study on the construction of an underground metro system in the capital had been completed, the government’s additional plans for a link between that project and the new airport mean that financiers will need to perform further research on rail routing, station placement and costs, Chanthol said.

“We’re talking light rail to connect Phnom Penh with our new airport [just south of] Takhmao [town]. I hope that one day we’ll have a station where people can board and get off at AEON MALL Mean Chey as well,” he said, also mentioning the idea of a bus service based at the shopping outlet.

The minister expressed keenness to work with the AEON Group to identify an appropriate location for the proposed station in the event that investors are interested in pursuing underground or light rail system development in the Kingdom.

“I’m confident that investors will be interested in funding this project, so we’ll definitely have trains coming to the Aeon Mall Mean Chey station sooner or later – it is a must-have,” he said.

In January, State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) spokesman and undersecretary of state Sinn Chanserey Vutha told The Post that work on TIA had cost Cambodia Airport Investment Co Ltd (CAIC) $617 million as of end-2022, having passed the 43 per cent completion point.

Breaking ground in 2019, TIA – formerly Techo Takhmao International Airport – is due to be completed in its first phase in mid-2024, according to CAIC’s updated master schedule, he said.

CAIC is a joint venture between Overseas Cambodia Investment Corp Ltd (OCIC) and the SSCA, with ownership set up on a 90:10 basis, OCIC said in a note on its website. The 4F-class airport is being built on a 2,600ha plot across Kandal province’s Kandal Stung and Sa’ang districts as well as Takeo province’s northernmost district of Bati.

For reference, in the “4F” code designation, the number “4” means that the airport’s runway is longer than 1,800m and the letter “F” signifies that the runway is designed for aircraft with a wingspan of up to but not including 80m, and landing gear where the outside edges of the outermost wheels are less than 16m apart.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter chairman Thourn Sinan views TIA as an important catalyst for flights to a growing list of destinations, a remarkable feat in the development of Cambodia’s aviation-related infrastructure, and a major driver of recovery in the Kingdom’s tourism sector.

According to the SSCA’s Chanserey Vutha, a total of 26 international airlines were operating 844 flights to or from Cambodia each week as of end-May – counting those inbound and outbound separately – most of which are intra-ASEAN.

Phnom Penh accounted for the most flights at 634 or 75.12 per cent, followed by Siem Reap (196; 23.22%) and Sihanoukville (22; 2.61%), he said.

Citing recent studies, Chanserey Vutha suggested that, in general, air traffic volumes in Cambodia may not reach 2019 levels until about end-2024 or early 2025.

He stated in late May that numbers of international tourists flying into Cambodia are approximately two-fifths of their 2019 levels, and predicted that the overall volume of inbound passengers in 2024 would be roughly equal to that of 2019.

The Ministry of Tourism reported that Cambodia received more than 2.16 million international visitors during the first five months of the year, equivalent to nearly 75 per cent of the 2.89 million recorded in the same time of 2019.

May – the month that Cambodia hosted the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games – accounted for 0.44 million of that total, compared to 0.43 million in April, ministry statistics suggest. Meanwhile, the total for the entire year has been predicted to reach 4.5 million.

The ministry reported that Cambodia welcomed nearly 2.277 million international visitors in 2022, marking a 65.56 per cent fall from the all-time high of 6.611 million in 2019, but an 11.59-fold increase against 2021. Of the total, 791,603 (34.8%) arrived via air, compared to 4.404 million (66.62%) in 2019.

A visitor in the context of these statistics is a person travelling to the Kingdom, “staying at least overnight and not exceeding a specific period for leisure, recreation, business and other legal tourism purposes; and not relevant to the purpose of permanent residence or any remunerated activities”, as defined by the ministry.