PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – In August, Phnom Penh air travelers will start using a spacious new terminal equipped with 50 percent more check-in counters than now, twice as many immigration counters, and three times as many X-ray machines for carry-on bags.
In Cambodia’s largest airport expansion in a generation, the new airport terminal will seem like an upscale shopping mall. There will be a food court, twice as much floor space for duty free, and a host of new food and beverage vendors never seen that far west on Russian Boulevard.
Now hidden behind construction scaffolding, the expansion of the city’s airport is part of $100 million project to double passenger capacities for Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports. They are being built to each handle 5 million passengers a year – doubling current capacities.
Major upgrade work also is taking place at Sihanoukville’s aiport. Next month, it is to receive charter flights from China, Seoul and Singapore.
“It is a big change for us, for our passengers – and we are happy to go this way,” said Emmanuel Menanteau, CEO of Cambodia Airports, the public-private partnership that operates the country’s three international airports.
SE Asia’s Fastest Air Passenger Growth
To some air travelers, the expansion can’t come soon enough. Last year, Cambodia’s air traffic increased by 12.8 percent, the highest rate in Southeast Asia. By comparison, passenger growth rates were 1 percent in Singapore, 3 percent in Thailand, 5 percent in Malaysia and Indonesia, and 11 percent in Vietnam.
Last year, Siem Reap, Cambodia busiest airport, recorded 3 million passengers for the first time. A few weeks ago, Siem Reap opened a new departure area for check in, departure immigration and boarding. Next month, a brand new arrival terminal is to open.
Although the traditional triangular roof shapes have been maintained, Siem Reap’s expansion is more dramatic than at the capital. This airport, which serves Angkor Wat, is seeing its floor surface more than double to 25,548 square meters. Immigration counters, X-ray security machines and baggage carousels are doubling. Check-in counters increase by 50 percent, to 36. The number of international boarding gates increased to eight.
Both airports will follow a world trend of encouraging passengers to spend money.
“We will definitely bring new choices and more choices to our passengers,” said Mr. Menanteau, who is on the management committee of VINCI Airports Group, the French company that is a majority shareholder of Cambodia Airports, which has the concession for nation’s three international airports.
New Features for Phnom Penh
In addition to a pharmacy, the food court, and an expanded “walk through” duty free, Phnom Penh’s airport will add a 1,600-square meter mezzanine. This allows a tripling of the business lounge area. The business lounge will be operated by Plaza Premium Lounge, a Hong Kong company that runs business lounges in airports in such cities as London, Toronto, and Macao.
Phnom Penh will get two more boarding gates and one more ‘jet bridge,’ the moveable tunnel that allows passengers to walk from terminal to jet. While Phnom Penh passengers use the new terminal, Cambodia Airports will renovate the old terminal. The work that is to be completed next March.
With the new facility, the airport managers are targeting new destinations: India, Indonesia and Japan.
This year, 6.1 million people are expected to use the nation’s three commercial airports. By 2020, this figure is expected to hit 7.3 million. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts that today’s airport expansions will handle Cambodian traffic for another 20 years, through 2035.
In Phnom Penh, some of the growth is fueled by the city’s growing middle class. This year, Cambodians are expected to account for one quarter of passengers using the airport.
To diversify, Cambodia Airport is investing in Sihanoukville’s airport. Workers have connected the airport to a main electricity power line. Now, they are building storage tanks for jet fuel and renovating the airport’s small terminal.
“There are no restrictions to bring any commercial aircraft from the region – they can bring flights from Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok, Singapore,” Mr. Menanteau said of the capacity of the airport’s runway, radar, and navigational systems. “In 2015, we expect to more than double passengers in Sihanoukville.”
Looking over the horizon, Cambodia’s government asked IATA to study which of the nation’s 17 provincial airports would be candidates for commercial service in the 2020s.
“Today, it seems that Ratanakiri, Koh Kong and Preah Vihear have the best potential for reopening,” Mr. Menanteau said citing the IATA study.
All three have growing tourism economies, but are far from Phnom Penh. Koh Kong, on the Gulf of Siam, and Preah Vihear, on Cambodia’s northern border with Thailand, are about 300 kilometers, or five hours by road from Phnom Penh.
Ratanakiri, near Vietnam, is almost 500 kilometers, or 7.5 hours by car, from the capital. Ratanakiri has not had commercial service since an accident in 2005.
Kompong Chnnang’s air strip often is cited as an alternative for cargo flights. The strip, a Chinese foreign aid project for the Khmer Rouge, is 2,400 meters of solid concrete. But the strip is 110 kilomers, or 2 hours by road, from northwest Phnom Penh. And most factories in the capital area are in the south or east.
“Surveys show that aiport users look closely at how long it takes to reach the ariport from the city center, “ Mr. Menanteau said. “If it is more than a 45-minutes journey, interest drops off.”