Is a New Coastal Airport Necessary for Cambodia?

The Cambodian government gave the green light to the development of an international airport in Koh Kong province along the coast of the Gulf of Siam. Is there really a necessity to build a brand new airport in that province with already Sihanoukville already having an international airport?

Sihanoukville has been struggling since its opening as the coastal airport has so far failed to attract a large number of air carriers. In 2015, Cambodia third international airport recorded a total of less than 95,000 passengers. From January to August, the airport welcomed 78,000 passengers with the possibility to see Sihanoukville reaching the symbolic 100,000-passengers’ mark before the end of the year. The airport has regular flights to Siem Reap, Saigon, Phnom Penh, as well as charters to China. They are also expectation that Bangkok Airways could fly to Sihanoukville but this will likely not happen before 2017 according to internal sources of the airline.

What then would motivate authorities to give the green light for a new airport? Of course… China! There is an ongoing massive land development in Koh Kong which has been given to the Tianjin Union Development Group. The 45,000-hectare land concession will see thousands of bedrooms and residences being developed, an investment which represents almost US$4 billion. Beside hotels and hotel residences, the project integrates a golf course, a casino and, of course, an airport.

The Phnom Penh Post indicated early this week that plans have been finalized with a site being identified. According to the Chinese company, an airport capable to accommodate up to 10 million passengers is planned while the runway will be able to welcome the Airbus A380. The concession would not be given to Cambodia Airports but to the same Chinese company. Air planes would mostly help bringing Chinese tourists to the future resort complex. Construction seems to have already started with preparatory work for the apron and the runway.

However, the new airport could also “kill” the activity at Sihanoukville airport as airlines might prefer flying direct to Koh Kong.