Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that Siem Reap is in need of a new airport to tackle the rising number of visitors to the area.
The prime minister also called for the expansion of the country’s other two main airports to increase their handling capacity.
Mr Hun Sen said construction of a new airport and the overhaul of other existing airport facilities in the country is necessary to deal with the increased passenger flows and freight movements. The prime minister later added that this is in line with the government’s ambitious plans to attract more than seven million tourists by 2020.
“Our target is to reach about seven million foreign tourists by 2020 and we firmly believe that we can reach it,” Mr Hun Sen said. “Our plan is to enhance and expand the capacity of airports and build new ones in order to enable the landing of larger long haul aircrafts.”
The new facility will double the capacity of the existing airport, which stands at five million visitors per year, according to the prime minister.
Mr Hun Sen also commented on other airfields in the kingdom, stating that the airports in Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanoukville province need to be upgraded to handle an increasing number of passengers and freight movements.
Last week Cambodia reached an $880-million agreement with China’s Yunnan Investment Holding Ltd which allows the state-owned company to manage the new airport under a 55-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) concession.
The new airport will be built over 700 hectares of land in Sotr Nikom district, about 50km outside Siem Reap city. Construction of the new airport will start in early 2018, according to Sin Chansereyvutha, a spokesman for Cambodia’s State Secretariat for Civil Aviation.
“We don’t know the specific date of construction, but we believe that it will happen early next year. Currently the company is working in preparing the field,” Mr Chansereyvutha said.
Khek Norinda, a spokesman for Cambodia Airports, told Khmer Times that there is a full and comprehensive plan detailing the future development of Cambodia’s three main international airports.
“The plan is based on traffic forecasts, growth assumptions and the expansion and configuration of the airport facilities to accommodate the growth,” Mr Khek said.
Current airports sites have some substantial room for further capacity development, Mr Khek noted, adding that in the long term, such developments may be envisaged on new locations.
Thourn Sinan, chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia, welcomed the news, saying that better airport facilities will result in more visitors to the city of Siem Reap, home to the Unesco-listed Angkor temple complex.
“With bigger airports, it is also important to work on our marketing to make sure we take advantage of every opportunity to bring more tourists into the country,” Mr Sinan said.
“The number of flights to Cambodia is increasing, but we cannot focus on the Chinese market alone. We have to look at other markets in the region as well, such as India. Tourists from these countries are also a priority.”
Passenger traffic in the country’s three main airports rose by 8.5 percent last year, according to Cambodia Airports. The number of passenger in Phnom Penh International Airport grew by 10 percent, reaching 3.39 million.
Passenger traffic in the international airports of Sihanoukville and Siem Reap rose by 66 and 5.5 percent respectively.
Last year Cambodia welcomed five million airborne foreign visitors, a five percent increase year-on-year, according to government figures.