Cambodia Investment Review

Explainer: Airports in Cambodia

Explainer: Airports in Cambodia

Gareth Johnson

Airports in Cambodia are set to drastically expand capacity after taking over 11.6 million passengers in 2019 and with several new airports slated to come online soon. In this article, we look at the current international airports, regional ones, and those currently under construction, as well as the vertical ways other businesses may increase due to this. 

Cambodia has seen rapid economic progress over the last 20 years, generally averaging 7.7 percent growth annually, with a large part of this economic miracle being down to tourism as of the four pillars. 

Read more: Cambodia’s economic outlook in 2023 and beyond.

Therefore, a lot has been spent on tourist infrastructure within the Kingdom, much of which has or is going towards upgrading the Kingdom’s airport infrastructure. 

While during the COVID pandemic international arrivals dropped by 92 percent (136,680) in the first half of 2021 this quickly rebounded back to 2.28 million in 2022, with at least 4 million expected in 2023, no doubt buoyed by the recent reopening of China to international travel. 

The expected overall increase not just to pre-pandemic levels, but beyond is part of the reason why a large number of new airports is being built. Aside from the increased traffic, this rise in capacity will also bring the potential for growth within the private plane market, as well as opportunities for obtaining private and/or commercial pilot licenses. 

Read more: Need For Local Pilots Set to Rise In Cambodia’s Developing Aviation Industry

Airports in Cambodia: Administration

From a legal standpoint, every airport in Cambodia falls under the regulatory guidelines of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), in reality, though the current international airports in Cambodia, namely Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville are governed by Cambodia Airports.

Cambodia Airports is a public-private partnership set up in 1995 between VINCI Airports and the Royal Cambodian Government that gave the concession for the development and management of Cambodia’s three international airports for 45 years.

The shareholders of Cambodia Airports are France’s VINCI Airports (70%) and Muhibbah Masteron Cambodia (30%), a Malaysian-Cambodian joint venture.

VINCI Airports are one of the biggest constructors and managers of airports in the world, currently running 53 airports in 12 countries, as well as employing over 12,000 people according to their website. 

Their portfolio includes some of the busiest and most important airports in the world, such as London Gatwick, in which they own a majority stake.

International Airports in Cambodia

Phnom Penh International Airport.

Phnom Penh International Airport (Pochentong)

Currently, the biggest and busiest airport in Cambodia has seen several high-cost renovations within the last five years. This has included a $12 million upgrade on general infrastructure for passengers, as well as expanding the runway to 3000 meters to meet demand as the tourist industry continues to grow. 

2019 Phnom Penh International Airport data 

  • 6 million passengers used Pochentong Airport.
  • 36 destinations flown to.
  • 35 airlines in operation to and from the airport.
  • Airport code PNH

Siem Reap International Airport

The second most important airport in Cambodia and build to primarily serve the tourist city of Siem Reap and specifically is just 5km from Angkor Wat.

2019 Siem Reap International Airport data

  • 3.9 million passengers used Siem Reap International Airport.
  • 48 destinations flown to.
  • 31 airlines in operation to and from the airport.
  • Airport code REP

Sihanouk International Airport

The most recently developed airport, has seen 2018 renovations that increased the size of the terminal by 80 percent. It serves the coastal city of Sihanoukville, which has a large Chinese ex-pat community as well as the gateway to both the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem and the province of Koh Kong.

2019 Sihanouk International Airport Data

  • 1.6 million passengers used Sihanoukville International Airport.
  • 11 destinations outbound destinations
  • 10 airlines in operation to and from the airport.
  • Airport code KOS
Sihnouk International Airport

New airports under construction in Cambodia

There are talks about several new airports in Cambodia, but there are currently four that are confirmed, being built, and have at least an expected opening date. These include new airports in both Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, as well as two international airports in the currently underdeveloped Koh Kong province.

This will be the first time that airports within Cambodia will not be run by the Cambodian Airports Company, with the new projects seeing significant Chinese, as well as local investment.

New Phnom Penh International Airport 

Located in Kandal province which borders Phnom Penh, specifically in the Stung District. It is being built at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion. Planned to be operational by 2023, although it has suffered various setbacks related to the pandemic and currently has no fixed date of opening. 

When opened it will have an initial capacity of 13 million passengers, which is expected to rise to 30 million by 2030.

According to “OCIC (Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation), a private firm with a pedigree in funding large-scale real estate ventures, is the principal investor in the new airport in a JV with Cambodia’s State Secretariat of Civil Aviation”.

It will carry the airport code PNH (replacing the current airport) and will be known as the “Techo Takhmao International Airport” according to government reports. 

New Siem Reap International Airport

Located around 51km from downtown Siem Reap and 40km from Angkor Wat the new airport is expected to cost around 1 billion to build. Again slated to be open by 2023 there are ongoing reports about its “level of construction” from both the government and local news outlets.

The new project is planned for completion over three phases, with part one raising the current capacity from 5 million passengers per year to 7 million. This is scheduled to increase to 10 million by 2030 and 20 million by 2050.

The airport is licensed and invested by Angkor International Airport Investment (Cambodia) Co., Ltd., an affiliate of China’s Yunnan Investment Holdings Ltd. 

It is being done under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) business model, which covers five years for construction, followed by a 50-year concession for the operation of the airport. 

It is set to be called the Siem Reap Angkor International Airport, however, it is unconfirmed if it will have a new airport code, or will take the one of the existing Siem Reap International Airport.

Dara Sakor Airport.

Dara Sakor International Airport in Koh Kong

One of the most controversial airport projects in Cambodia because the company making the airport is officially sanctioned by the US government.

Despite the controversy, the airport is seen as a huge investment and is part of the wider Dara Sakor project. The Dara Sakor project is being developed and will be managed by the Tianjin Union Development Group (UDG).

The group secured a 99-year exclusive concession in 2008 for the new airport with a reported initial investment of $200 million. UDG’s plans also include the construction nearby of a Cambodia-Chinese Investment and Development Zone that will include a free trade area, shipping port, and seaside resort according to the Centre for Aviation.

UDG was sanctioned by the US government in 2020 due to its actions in Cambodia stating: “After falsely registering as a Cambodian-owned entity to receive land for the Dara Sakor development project, UDG reverted to its true owner and continued to operate without repercussions.”

  • Expected Cost up to $350 million
  • Size 4.5 hectares
  • Due Date: 2023 (unconfirmed date) 
  • Airport code – DSR

Koh Kong Airport

Why have one international airport when you can have two? A $40 million joint venture between Ly Yong Phat’s LYP Group and Bangkok Airways Pcl Koh Kong Airport is intended to replace the current domestic Koh Kong Airport (KKZ) and will thus keep its airport code.

Currently, the project appears to be on hiatus but is still expected to not only be completed but to serve international as well as regional flights. 

The Private Plane Market in Cambodia

Another area where increasing airports and indeed airport capacity would have positive effects on the aviation industry of Cambodia was with regards to private ownership of planes, as well as their storage.

Essentially increased capacity means more and cheaper places to store planes, with Kirill Bratchenko Managing Director of Novation Academy stating “Previously you could get a private license relatively cheaply, but owning and operating a plane could be expensive and hard. More space means more storage capacity and thus it becomes cheaper. This in turn creates a situation where things like flight clubs can be formed and people can even look at co-ownership of planes, something popular in other jurisdictions”.

He further added that this could also fuel a market for the buying and reselling of private planes, again using the excess storage space and again helping turn this is not a new industry within the Kingdom. 

Read more: How to get a private pilot’s license in Cambodia with Novation Academy.

Domestic airports in Cambodia 

While domestic routes have tended to be focused on Siem Reap – Phnom Penh and Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville. There are though some military, or private airports which currently are fit for either fixed aircraft or helicopters that could be converted into commercial sites.

  • Battambang Airport (largest city without a commercial airport)
  • Ratanakiri Airport
  • Kampong Cham Airport
  • Kampong Chhnang Airpot
  • Kampot Airport
  • Krakor Airport
  • Kratié Airport
  • Mondulkiri Airport (new $60 million commercial airport planned). 
  • Stung Treng Airport
  • Thbeng Meanchey Airport

Obtaining a Commercial Pilots License in Cambodia

Novation Academy flight school training room in Phnom Penh.

Current estimates are that at least 200,000 new pilots will be needed in Asia alone, with the market dictating that qualified pilots are all, but assured of a job. Previously this meant airlines hiring from areas with pilot training programs, something Cambodia now has with the formation of the previously mentioned Novation Academy.

This according to their Managing Director Kirill Bratchenko has opened a world of opportunity for potential local pilots to take advantage of the growth telling Cambodia Investment Review: “The increase in airport capacity means more pilots being needed and thus more opportunities for those who train locally. Currently, foreign pilots are hired simply because they are the only ones available. Essentially if we have Khmer pilots then they will be hired”.

Read more: How to get a commercial pilots license in Cambodia.

As things currently stand it is estimated that there are more pilots needed than are currently being trained, meaning this could indeed become a major growth market within the Kingdom, with Novation Academy also pointing out some of their advantages compared to other jurisdictions: “We offer one of the most competitively priced packages available, not to mention the fact that we have immense government backing and support.”

“This means a lot, not least that our pilots have access to the Cambodian skies, but also a career path via one of the numerous Cambodian airlines taking advantage of the increased airport capacity that the Kingdom is offering,” Kirill added.

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