A senior government minister yesterday announced a halt to plans to expand the Phnom Penh International Airport, and instead revived talk of a new airport altogether, mentioning plans to identify a location 30 to 40 kilometres outside the city in hopes of completing the new airport by 2025.
Officials, however, remained tight-lipped about the details of the project yesterday. The announcement was made at the Por Sen Chey District Hall during a meeting between the Council of Ministers and some of the 600 families living in five villages near the airport that were slated to be affected by the expansion. The families had been protesting the ongoing land dispute, which had languished for about four years.
Senior Minister Yem Nolla, director of the economic, social and cultural council, told attendees that the government had decided to keep the security and safety zone of the airport intact without any campus extensions.
We “cannot extend [the airport], so the people have no problems, and please don’t worry about it”, he said.
“The government will build a new airport,” he added, before asking: “Build it in what location? I don’t know.”
In 2012, Prime Minister Hun Sen requisitioned 768 hectares of land that were slated to be used to build a long-discussed international airport in Kampong Chhnang after 2025.
The planned Kampong Chhnang site was close to 100 kilometres from Phnom Penh – farther away than the 30 to 40 kilometres cited by Nolla – and the idea seemingly died on the vine.
Sinn Sereyvuth, spokesman for the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, said yesterday that the plan mentioned by Nolla is part of a “new initiative” for the government’s long-term vision.
He said he became aware of the new planned airport around February.
The Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports just completed a $100 million expansion, and while the current airport in Phnom Penh could likely support more than the 7 million annual passengers it was designed for, Sereyvuth said, “the government has intentions to replace this airport”.
It would take about five years to indentify and study the location – this process is in the preliminary assessment phase – and another five years to construct the airport. “Maybe the new airport can create better economic opportunities,” he said.
Deputy Secretary of State for Civil Aviation Soy Sokhan stated that the government decided to keep the existing airport where it currently is so that people can make arrangements and repair their homes. But they have to obtain permission from authorities and need to respect height standards to accommodate landing planes.
Phuong Sopheap, a representative of the land disputants in the Thmor Kol community, welcomed the decision not to expand the current airport, but suggested the government offer land titles to people living there and pay compensation for the loss of opportunities and difficulties caused by freezing their land for sale for four years.
“The important one is the request for land title for the people to prevent people from worrying, because [giving] only words is very dangerous,” she said.
Sokhan said local authorities and involved ministries will discuss the issue of land titles in order to arrange for the community to build infrastructure.
“We will meet the joint committees to discuss the people’s requests,” he said.
Additional reporting by Yesenia Amaro