Cambodia – is the ratification of Montreal Convention 1999 on the horizon?

According to the latest report from the Ministry of Tourism, Cambodia, home to the renowned Angkor Wat, reported a 139.5% surge in international tourist arrivals, totalling over 5.4 million visitors in 2023. Notably, approximately 3.5 million of these arrivals were from ASEAN countries, representing a 121.4% increase. Projections further predict that the tourism revenue can reach US$286.4 million this year, coupled with an annual growth rate of 7.68% forecasted between 2024 and 2028.

Despite the impressive tourism figures, the country remains one of the very few jurisdictions yet to rectify the principal liability regime for international carriage by air, being the Montreal Convention 1999.

Fortunately, however, the impressive increase in tourism appears to be galvanising efforts to bolster Cambodia’s aviation sector and regulatory framework in an effort to keep pace with the growing market demand and the escalating regional connectivity.


On 9 October 2023, with an unanimous 101 out of 101 votes, the National Assembly of Cambodia made a landmark decision by approving the Law on the Establishment of the Secretariat of State for Civil Aviation (the LESSCA). Shortly after, the Senates approved the draft law with another overwhelming majority of 60 votes. The draft legislation further received unanimous endorsement from the Cambodian Constitutional Council on 24 October 2023.

Cambodia’s civil aviation regulatory history dates back to 1955, when the Kingdom established its first office for civil aviation and subsequently joined the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) a year later. Following the tumultuous era of the Khmer Rouge regime, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Kingdom of Cambodia underwent a significant transformation in 1996, evolving into the current Secretariat of State for Civil Aviation (SSCA) as mandated by The Royal Decree SH RDC 0196.

To date, Cambodia’s aviation regulatory framework mainly relies on the Warsaw Convention 1929 as amended by the Hague Protocol 1955, alongside the Law on Civil Aviation of the Kingdom of Cambodia enacted in 2008. Although the country signed the Montreal Convention 1999 on May 28, 1999, which has since been ratified by over 130 states, it has not yet formally ratified it.

The new legislation and a breeze of change

The LESSCA comes off the back of the Council of Minister’s approval at its plenary session on 20 September 2023, which was in response to the finding of ICAO that the SSCA needed to improve how the civil aviation industry was regulated and to meet requirements that the ICAO has set for member states. While the LESSCA is brief, only containing 11 material provisions delineating the setup of the new SSCA and its governmental reporting line, it does provide an indication of a long-awaited refocusing on the aviation infrastructure and regulation, which may lead to, amongst other things, ratification of the Montreal Convention 1999.

LESSCA – key observations:

More power

Under the LESSCA, SSCA assumes a pivotal role directly under the Prime Minister’s Office, which elevates its power to that of a direct ministry under the Royal Government of Cambodia, reporting directly to the Prime Minister and the National Assembly (Article 4). The change further streamlines the decision-making process and circumventing the need for intermediary review by the Cabinet, which would enable the SSCA to address matters and provide comprehensive reports promptly and directly to the Prime Minister.

Additional funding and support

Article 5 of the LESSCA also distinctly stipulates the allocation of a dedicated budget for the SSCA, and sourced directly from the overall national budget. Coupled with the provision of civil servants, this financial autonomy further demonstrates the commitment of the Cambodian government in civil aviation.

Renewed focus

Last but not least, Article 11 of the LESSCA designates the draft law to be “urgent”, underscoring the renewed focus of the SSCA towards achieving greater organisational efficiency. Remarkably, the entire draft law secured the landslide approval from the National Assembly, Senate and the Cabinet within a mere 15 days, which showcases a testament to the Cambodian government’s heightened prioritisation on civil aviation.


The timing of the new LESSCA coincides aptly with the inauguration of the new Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport in October 2023. The new Siem Reap airport is projected to accommodate 7 – 10 million passengers per year, underscoring Cambodia’s commitment to enhancing aviation infrastructure. Furthermore, the country is also planning to soon open  another new Dara Sakor International Airport, capable of handling up to another 2 million passengers annually, in the bid to step up its position as one of the regional aviation hubs.

Given the rapid growth of the aviation infrastructure in Cambodia, it comes as no surprise that the government is now turning its attention towards aviation regulations. While it remains to be seen what practical implications are under the LESSCA and the re-established SSCA, this is certainly a welcomed change and a step in the right direction. There  are hopes that the LESSCA will serve as the centrepiece of the framework, ultimately leading to the continued development in aviation regulation, including the ratification of the Montreal Convention 1999, in the region.

Monitoring these developments closely is crucial, as they could have far-reaching effects on the APAC aviation landscape and Cambodia’s further integration into international aviation regulatory framework. We will continue to keep an eye on these essential developments for stakeholders within and outside the industry and be sure to keep you updated.  

If you have any questions on aviation and aerospace developments and/or the legal landscape in Cambodia or APAC generally, please do not hesitate to contact Tristan Thompson, or Colbert Hung,