A Future for Domestic Cambodian Airports?

Battambang Airport in 2014, a playground for kids and teenagers (picture of Charlotte Pert; Phnom Penh Post)

A month ago, Cambodia’s daily the Khmer Times reported that Prime Minister Hun Sen transferred control of some of the Kingdom’s domestic airports to local government authorities for public use. It might be a surprise for many but Cambodia has more than only its three airports managed by Cambodia Airports, a subsidiary of French company VINCI. They are a total of 17 airports in the Kingdom, including the three international gateways.

For decades, the 14 domestic airports were linked by domestic flights to Phnom Penh and some to Siem Reap. Still in the mid 1990s, a handful of airfields had some weekly connections with the capital. However, ageing Russian aircraft, bankrupt airlines and a lack of passengers brought most of the domestic air routes to an end beside Phnom Penh-Siem Reap and Siem Reap-Sihanoukville.

“We handed over airfields to provincial authorities to manage and use for state or public interest,” Hun Sen declared to media. Not all the airports would however be preserved as airfields.

According to the government while close to a dozen airports will be handover to public authorities, the airports in Kampong Chhnang, Battambang, Koh Kong and Stung Treng provinces would be kept for their original purpose. State Secretariat of Civil Aviation spokesman Sin Chanserey Vutha indicated that the four remaining airports would be maintained for expanding domestic flights in the future. The airport in Stung Treng province serves northeastern Cambodia, Koh Kong province’s airport covers the southern coast up to the Thai border, Battambang airport would serve the northwest while Kampong Chnang province’s airport would be the main air gateway for Central Cambodia.

“Following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments, we are now preparing solid documents to manage those domestic airports to keep as reserve airports and implementing the long-term strategy for the future,” the spokesman said.

Reviving domestic air transport in Cambodia would for the time being a rather good idea. While a good network of national roads were built with foreign funds and credits over the last two decades, the massive increase in road traffic is turning trips between the Cambodian capital and provinces into nightmares. It takes now up to four hours to cover the 160 km distance between Phnom Penh and Kampot in the South and over five hours to drive along the 265 km linking Battambang- Cambodia’s second largest city- to Phnom Penh. Offering again domestic air routes would considerably shorten travel times –until new four-lane highways are opened.

The airport in Mondulkiri province has already been approved for a conversion into an orchid garden and public park as the facility is located in the middle of the city.