Indo-China's airport authorities are striving to catch up with the rapid pace of modernisation but at least one is finding to its cost that dipping into airline revenues is a recipe for confrontation.

Plans by a Franco-Malaysian-Cambodian airport management consortium to part fund an ambitious redevelopment programme for Phnom Penh's Ponchentong airport by doubling the departure tax ran into protests by carriers. Instead SCA opted to lift the charge by 50 per cent to US$15.

But airlines still aren't happy, claiming they are being forced to pay for facilities they don't yet have, and pointing out the region's best airport, Singapore's Changi, has a departure tax of only US$14. Ironically, the campaign is being led by Malaysia Airlines country manager Ishak Kamaruddin, acting chairman of the Airline Operators Committee (AOC), against a consortium which includes two Malaysian companies.

They argue the increase will make the airport one of the most expensive in the region, despite being among the least developed, and want the charge dropped to US$12 or US$13. The funding issue has soured relations between airlines and the airport management, which was granted a 20-year concession to develop the airport last September.

SCA managing director Renzo Saachi says the Cambodian government plans to channel loans from the Asian Development Bank into the project, and angrily refutes suggestions the consortium isn't investing its own money. 'Certain persons in the airline industry have been reported as saying that SCA should invest in the Pochentong airport project before increasing the tax . . . Since taking responsibility for Pochentong International Airport on 15 October 1995, SCA has invested more than US$12 million in the airport project,' he says. Saachi argues the investment should be seen against monthly gross airport revenues which amount to 'only' US$390,000.

In neighbouring Vietnam airport development is progressing with less controversy. The government is studying a plan to use Japanese aid to part finance the doubling of its airports to 32 by the year 2010. Sources indicate approval should come by mid-1996.

The airports in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Danang in central Vietnam will be developed to cope with the surge in tourist and business traffic.

Tom Ballantyne

Source: Airline Business