40 kilometers south of the capital of Rwanda, Kigali, in the district of Bugesera, construction vehicles and people in bright vests flooded the dry land
The new airport in Rwanda – a breakthrough in the sky
40 kilometers south of the capital of Rwanda, Kigali, in the district of Bugesera, construction vehicles and people in bright vests flooded the arid lands. Here, two lanes of asphalt are the cornerstone of a $2 billion airport whose developers want it to become the crown jewel of Africa's aviation industry.
Planned for commissioning in 2026, the new facilities will include a 130,000-square-meter main terminal building that will be able to accommodate 8 million passengers a year, with that figure expected to reach 14 million in the coming decades. Nearby there will be a dedicated cargo terminal capable of handling 150,000 tons of cargo per year.
This is a notable improvement to the existing Kigali International Airport, which will remain in operation for special arrivals, some charter flights and a pilot school.
Before the pandemic, the airport carried about 1 million passengers annually, but its geographic constraints – located on top of a small hill and surrounded by settlements – required relocation to allow for expansion.
“I'm amazed, it's like a dream come true to see the impact and scale of this project on the population,” said Jules Ndenga, chief executive of Aviation Travel and Logistics Holding, the Rwandan government company in charge of the construction.
60% stake The new airport will be owned by Qatar Airways. The international airline will also acquire a 49% stake in Rwanda's national airline, Rwandair, offering access to over 65 locations worldwide.
This partnership is intended to help Rwanda – internationally closed off at the heart of Africa – achieve its goal of becoming the continent's air travel hub. “The main goal of this effort is for Rwanda to become an African hub where everyone will transfer for both tourism and business and various industries,” Ndenga added.
“This will affect the development and the economy of the country, and the neighborhood … we know that this area will become a satellite of the urban center."
However, the benefits could extend far beyond Rwanda's borders. The arrival of the new airport will help eliminate the problem of a fragmented network of routes, which often forces passengers to fly through Europe or the Middle East when flying between African countries.
The lack of connections across the continent is holding back Africa's untapped potential in the aviation business. According to a 2018 report by the Linear African Air Transport Market, an African Union initiative that owns less than 4% of the global air travel market, despite the fact that the continent is home to 16.75% of the world's population, more than 1.4 billion people.
For RwandAir CEO Yvonne Manzi Makolo, connectivity is the “biggest hurdle” for the African aviation industry.
“The continent is huge and spacious, but traveling within it is difficult and unpredictable and extremely expensive,” Makolo said.