African aviation experts discuss airports expansion

Several experts in the aviation sector from different African countries have stressed the need to expand airports at the fifth annual Africa Airport Expansion Summit, which concluded yesterday in Kigali.
Expansion works at Kigali International Airport last year. File.
Expansion works at Kigali International Airport last year. File.

Several experts in the aviation sector from different African countries have stressed the need to expand airports at the fifth annual Africa Airport Expansion Summit, which concluded yesterday in Kigali.

The two-day summit brought together government officials, investors, civil aviation authorities and airport management groups, as well as consultants, architects, construction companies, equipment providers and service groups.

Organisers indicated that the majority of airports in Africa are undergoing expansion in a bid to cater for rapidly growing passenger and cargo traffic volumes.

“It is expected that by 2020, African passengers and traffic will double, so the airports need to adapt to this growing need and growing demand. This is why there’s a lot of expansion plans going on at the existing airports, but also ambitious plans to build green field airports,” said Alexander Herring, one of the organisers.

During the opening of the meeting on Monday, Clare Akamanzi, the CEO of Rwanda Development Board, highlighted Rwanda’s plans to contribute to the growing expansion of African airports, and commended the organisers for choosing Rwanda as the host of such an important summit.

“The 5th Annual Africa Airport Expansion Summit is timely. Rwanda has prioritised the aviation industry and has set a zero tax levy for companies with regional headquarters in Rwanda,” she said.

Experts said that booming tourism and renewed interest in investing in Africa by foreign companies has left many countries struggling to boost the capacity of their airports, and, as a result, airport development projects are mushrooming across Africa.

Herring said countries also need to adopt technologies in order to improve expansion plans, but also build synergies. He argued that expansion of transport facilities is critical to the economy.

“We have realised that the doubling in passengers will go with the doubling of the economy. 33 per cent of the population is middle class, and it is expected to be 63 per cent in the next 20 to 22 years. This means these are the people who will want to travel more and more, and, therefore, the air transport is becoming more important,” he added.

Rwanda’s airport expansion plans

Prudence Tuyishimire, the head of planning and development at Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA), said that Rwanda is currently expanding the existing airports, but also constructing a new airport.

“This is because the aviation industry is growing very fast. There’s a need to make sure that the ground infrastructure are able to accommodate the growing traffic,” he said.

Last year, ForwardKeys – a company that predicts future travel patterns by crunching and analysing booking transactions – said Kigali International Airport was the third fastest growing in Africa.

Once on-going Bugesera airport construction works are complete, Herring said, the airport will be one of the green field airports in Africa.

Tuyishimire said Rwanda will benefit significantly from the summit, specifically in terms of strengthening the expertise of the local aviation industry players.

“Our aviation industry is young, but with such forums, our players get an opportunity to share experiences with other professionals with more expertise in this industry,” he noted.

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