A Change of Guard

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Monday, 18 April 2016

Air traffic continues to soar at nation’s airports

A plane takes off from Phnom Penh International Airport in 2013.
A plane takes off from Phnom Penh International Airport in 2013. Heng Chivoan

Air traffic continues to soar at nation’s airports
ppp Mon, 18 April 2016
Sor Chandara

Passenger and cargo traffic continues to grow at the Kingdom’s three international airports, which handled a record number of passengers in the first three months of the year, according to Cambodia Airports, the French-owned company that operates the three airports.

Airports in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville received over 2 million passengers between January and March, an increase of 4.9 per cent over the same period last year, Cambodia Airports said in its latest monthly newsletter. Total flight movements topped 20,000 during the period, a 6.6 year-on-year increase.

The biggest increases were observed in Phnom Penh, where passenger throughput grew 10.1 per cent to 863,000 during the first quarter of the year on more air connectivity.

Siem Reap saw a modest 1.3 per cent year-on-year increase during the period, handling in excess of 1 million passengers, while Sihanoukville saw a 1.6 per cent decline in passenger traffic despite 33.8 per cent more flight movements.

Pichr Sopontara, routes development manager at Cambodia Airports, said based on the early figures, the Kingdom’s airports can expect to handle well over 6 million passengers by the end of the year.

“Previously we had 28 airlines flying to Cambodia, but right now we have 30 airlines flying and more to come,” he said. “For us, we always expect the number [of passengers handled] to keep increasing.”

Meanwhile, Cambodia Airports reported a surge in cargo traffic, which increased by 18.4 per cent to 10,477 tonnes during the first three months of 2016, compared to a year earlier.

“We are surprised that cargo movements have increased significantly compared to last year,” Sopontara said.

“We see that there are more cargo flights as export demand to the EU and US has increased while we are also handling more imports.”

Phnom Penh’s cargo terminal saw 17.3 per cent growth in cargo tonnage during the period, while Siem Reap handled a staggering 141.8 per cent more cargo tonnage during the period – the result of starting from a low base.

The growth in air traffic is driving plans to expand airport capacity.

Last week, Malaysian-based Muhibbah Engineering, which holds a 30 per cent stake in Cambodia Airports, announced that it would invest $23 million to build a new domestic terminal in Phnom Penh to free up space at the existing terminal for international arrivals. The project is expected to be completed in 2017.

Sopontara said construction on the new terminal is slated to begin in July and aims to increase the capacity of the capital’s airport to 5 million domestic and international arrivals a year.

“Previously, the airport could handle only 2.5 million passengers, but last year passenger arrivals reached 3 million, so we need to expand,” he said.

Sopontara confirmed that there was no plan to build a second runway at the airport or extend the existing one, adding that the airport was already capable of handling large aircraft.

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