CAMBODIA AIRPORTS, the developer and operator of the Kingdom’s three international airports, has invested heavily in developing airport infrastructure to handle a surge in passenger and cargo traffic, and to prepare for future growth.

Last year, the airports in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville received a combined 8.8 million passengers, a 25 percent year-on-year increase. At the same time, cargo shipments grew by almost 40 percent to a record 65,000 tonnes.

Eric Delobel, CEO of Cambodia Airports, says the huge increases did not come by accident, but rather were the result of a successful strategy to develop air connectivity and provide sufficient airport infrastructure to handle the growth.

“On one end, it was the materialisation of what Cambodia Airports laid out with the Ministry of Tourism and all stakeholders in the tourism industry,” he says, noting that efforts to promote Cambodia as a destination have yielded nearly a decade of double-digit tourism growth. “It was also the result of our development strategies that aimed to welcome more airlines, open new routes and increase frequencies.”

Upgrading infrastructure

Infrastructure has been at the core of Cambodia Airports’ airport development strategy since 1995.

The company, majority owned by VINCI Airports, a subsidiary of France’s VINCI Group that is dedicated to airport management, holds a concession to operate the international airports in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville and has allocated $2 billion to develop the airport network by the end of its concession period in 2040.

The country’s 3 airports reports a solid 26.1%-growth for the first 3 months in 2018

Last year, Cambodia Airports completed a $100 million upgrade of the terminals at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports, doubling their capacity to handle over 10 million passengers a year and adding new services.

The second phase of this expansion, commissioned last December, extended the boarding concourse, provided new arrival areas and improved the domestic departure terminal.

Siem Reap international airport refurbishment & extensions were completed in 2016

A renovation of Sihanoukville’s airport is currently underway and expected to be completed in the coming months. The project is expanding the terminal to handle more passengers and provide a wider range of services, as well as extending and reinforcing the airport’s runway and apron to accommodate bigger aircraft. Upon completion, the airport will be able to handle over half a million passengers a year and accommodate widebody aircraft.

The sense of place at the Arrivals Esplanade of Phnom Penh Airport

Operational efficiency

But increasing capacity is not simply about building infrastructure, says Delobel, it is also about developing human resources, improving operating efficiencies and streamlining processes. Moreover, it is important not to think of capacity simply in terms of a number, but also as the quality of services and the ability to manage peak traffic conditions.

“If we doubled the capacity with infrastructure, by developing human resources and improved processes we will be able to accommodate an even higher number of passengers,” he says.

Rendition of the new terminal to be commissioned before Summer 2018

The direct beneficiaries of these improvements are Cambodia Airport’s customers. But the airport development strategy has far-reaching benefits to Cambodia as a whole.

Social and economic benefits

A socio-economic study carried out in 2015 found that Cambodia’s three international airports activities represented $2.7 billion, or about 17 percent of the country’s total GDP. It also found that those activities provided employment to 1.7 million people, or about 20 percent of the Kingdom’s working population.

Cargo traffic hit a new record in 2017 with 60,000 tons handled

Moving forward, Delobel says it is crucial to maintain the unity of the Kingdom’s airport network in order to optimise the development of the aviation sector and maximise its socio-economic benefits.

“It is important to be able to operate and develop the three international airports as a network as this provides more opportunity in terms of connectivity,” he says.

Eric Delobel, Cambodia Airports CEO

One clear advantage is in route development, as having the same operator handle both international and domestic air traffic gives airlines a better perspective when discussing new routes. A carrier seeking to launch an international route to Siem Reap, for instance, can also discuss with the same operator the possibility of adding a domestic leg to Sihanoukville.

“This way, we are able to sell Cambodia not only as a destination for two or three days, but for a full week,” says Delobel.

But Cambodia Airports can also leverage the worldwide network of its parent company, VINCI Airports, with its vast resources and experience in route development and airport operations.

“Our network here is part of a bigger network, VINCI Airports, which is a top-four global player in the international airport sector, with 36 airports in seven countries on three continents,” he says, adding that in 2017, Vinci Group’s network handled almost 160 million passengers.

“Cambodia Airports has had 23 years of successful partnership, providing our customers with a high level of quality,” Delobel says. “And we still have room to develop even more.”

A key component of the airport development strategy is investing in human resources by recruiting and training staff to properly handle the growing operations. It is also improving operating efficiencies and processes, which is “linked to the digitalisation of the airport, such as self-service check-in kiosks and more digital signage to provide passengers with information in their national language.”