January 17, 2023
PHNOM PENH – Cambodia’s adoption of a “Living with Covid-19” stance in the fourth quarter of 2021, coupled with effective pandemic management, has been hailed as perhaps the most significant driver of an all-round brisk recovery in socio-economic activity, including in the air transportation sector.
For the most part, industry players do not merely focus on moving passengers through the skies, but also ensure that parcels and freight are expertly handled and delivered to their onward or final destinations in the best condition possible, whether domestically or abroad.
State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) undersecretary of state and spokesman Sin Chansereyvutha recently sat down with The Post’s Hin Pisei to briefly highlight the state of the sector going into 2023, as well as prospects for the coming year.
Could you describe the overall situation of the Cambodian aviation sector at the end of 2022?
The civil aviation sector has seen a slew of improvements on-year since November 2021, when the government announced that the country would reopen.
Most notably, by end-December, 27 international airlines had resumed commercial flights, which is just above three-fifths of the 44 we had back in 2019, prior to Covid.
Air passengers in 2022 totalled 2.382 million, up nearly 900 per cent year-on-year, but just 25 per cent of the 2019 figure. The number of flights came to 28,900 last year, up more than 260 per cent year-on-year, but just 28 per cent of the 2019 total.
On the other hand, air cargo volumes topped 553.7 tonnes which, although down 22 per cent year-on-year, represented a five-per-cent rise over 2019.
Which international routes are seen as the most promising?
Some of the destinations with the most weekly flights to and from Cambodia now are Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, although it’s expected that some Chinese cities will emerge as potential contenders.
Prior to Beijing’s January 8 reopening, there had been no significant changes in the operation of commercial flights between Cambodia and China since at least August, when we had the maximum of 15 weekly flights in either direction, as allotted by the quota set by the Chinese side.
During these months, there were six Chinese airlines flying in and out of Cambodia, from seven Chinese cities. Since January 8, more appear to be expressing interest in offering flights to the Kingdom, but nothing will materialise until they apply for the applicable landing permits.
With flight quotas having been relaxed after the end of Beijing’s “zero-Covid” policy, we expect flights between Cambodia and China to increase gradually after the Lunar New Year on January 22.
Cambodia welcomes flights from China, and hopes that the relevant authorities will keep entry measures simple for arriving Chinese businesspeople and tourists.
How much is the Cambodian aviation sector expected to grow this year?
Industry analysts expect about 4.6 million air passengers on more than 45,000 flights in 2023.
National and international research suggests that, in general, air traffic volumes in Cambodia will not reach 2019 levels until about end-2024 or early 2025, assuming limited deviations from expected recovery trajectories, as the world progresses forward in a new normal.
And how goes work on the new Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports?
As of December 31, Techo Takhmao International Airport and Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport, which are respectively set to serve Phnom Penh and Siem Reap town, had passed the 43-per-cent and 63-per-cent completion marks.
Breaking ground in 2019, the former is scheduled to be completed in its first phase by mid-2024 and, as of end-2022, has set the developer back $617 million. The developer of the latter is aiming for 90-per-cent completion by end-March.