Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport, scheduled to open in October, will fulfil the needs associated with an anticipated rebound in international arrivals, especially those from mainland China, of which the government is aiming to welcome in seven-digit numbers this year, according to civil aviation officials and tourism industry insiders.

However, the main work on the initial phase was 63 per cent complete as of December 31, falling short of the expected 70 per cent, according to a statement issued in conjunction with a key meeting concerning the project, held on January 9.

The statement blamed the delay on Covid-19-related disruptions in the import of “construction equipment” from China. However, developer Angkor International Airport Investment (Cambodia) Co Ltd (AIAI) has affirmed its commitment to reaching 90 per cent by end-March.

Speaking in the statement, Tekreth Samrach, chairman of the Orientation Committee for the project, spoke highly of AIAI’s attention to the development as well as the “great successes” seen so far, “even at a time when the world is in crisis”.

Asserting that the worst times for work on the project are behind, he voiced commitment to reaching the end-March goal, and opening the airport in October.

Speaking to The Post on January 10, State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) spokesman Sin Chansereyvutha described progress on the Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport as a reflection of the “deep commitment” of the men and women involved in the construction, even while dogged by Covid-linked disruptions for the past two years.

“The company is highly committed to reaching its objectives. We truly welcome and applaud this commitment and hope the company achieves its plans,” he said.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter chairman Thourn Sinan hailed the airport as a supportive addition to the air transport system, which he said comes as the government takes steps to bring in Chinese and other international travellers to ensure a rapid post-Covid recovery in the tourism sector.

The new airport will “provide more options and more flights to serve the tourism sector” and host flights to and from China, he said.

On January 6, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon affirmed to local media that Cambodia is “ready” to welcome back mainland Chinese visitors, presenting an estimate for the 2023 total at about “one million” or a “10-fold” increase over 2022, which he noted was out of the “3.5-to-four million” foreign arrivals expected this year.

Four days earlier, Prime Minister Hun Sen had famously put forth a “two million” aim for mainland Chinese visitors to the Kingdom this year.

Of note, according to the tourism ministry, Cambodia has only tallied more than two million annual mainland Chinese visitors twice: 2.024 million in 2018 and 2.362 million in 2019, of which 1.299 million and 1.577 million respectively had their purpose of visit marked as “holiday”.

In January-November 2022, mainland China accounted for just 90,648 of the Kingdom’s 1.914 million international visitors.

Breaking ground on March 15, 2020, the three-phased 700.06ha airport development has capital investment of $880 million, more than $500 million of which is to be spent on the first and second phases.

Located in Sotr Nikum district’s Ta Yek commune east of Siem Reap town, the airport will reportedly be able to receive about seven million passengers per year initially, 10 million by 2030, and 20 million by 2050.

Similarly, annual cargo capacity is also expected to rise from 10,000 tonnes initially to 60,000 tonnes by 2050.

Chansereyvutha previously told The Post that the airport in its first phase will have 38 gates and be rated Code E, and hence able to accommodate larger aircraft such as A340-300, A350-900, B777-200, B777-300ER, B747-300 and B747-400.

For reference, the Code E rating signifies that the runway is designed for aircraft with a wingspan of up to but not including 65m, and landing gear where the outside edges of the outermost wheels are less than 14m apart.