Airport Infrastructure in Africa- NACO share their thoughts
At this year's AviaDev, NACO (Netherlands Airport Consultants) will be hosting a session featuring some of the most exciting airport infrastructural developments taking place on the African continent. We caught up with Marcel Langeslag, project manager, Aviation ahead of the conference:
JH: What are some of the trends in airport infrastructure development in Africa?
ML: Many of Africa’s largest airports have recently completed, or are currently undertaking, major expansion programmes. A number of airports, including Nairobi, Lusaka, Accra and many more, have expanded their terminal buildings, or built new terminals. Some airports, namely Dakar, Libreville and Kigali are going for complete greenfield developments. This is a very positive development as the growth in traffic at some of these airports has been constrained by a lack of capacity, or at the very least passenger service has suffered. What we are also seeing is the upgrading and expansion of many of the continent’s second-tier airports. Some of these smaller airports are being upgraded to enable flights at night time or during low visibility conditions, while others are having their runways extended to cater for larger aircraft. This will definitely increase opportunities for improved regional connectivity.
JH: Do you feel there is sufficient airport capacity to meet demands for growth, and where are the bottlenecks?
ML: There is certainly a need for increased airport capacity in Africa, without a doubt. At the major airports the terminal buildings and aircraft parking space probably present the largest capacity constraints. This is felt most during peak operating hours and it is not always easy to spread the traffic peaks, as airlines need their schedules to tie in with hub connecting banks and are tied to curfews in some areas. Runways, although not always in great condition, are not usually the capacity bottleneck. With the right equipment and air traffic control, a lot of traffic can be squeezed onto one runway; London Gatwick manages 55 flights per hour!
JH: In terms of financing airport infrastructure projects, what is the most popular model in Africa and has this changed over time?
ML: Most airport projects in Africa are still financed by governments, often with concessional loans from international development banks. However, there is also an increased interest in public private partnerships (PPPs). This makes sense as there is a lot to gain from involving private capital and expertise. However, it is not always easy to structure PPPs in a way that makes them interesting to private investors. There are a lot of factors to consider, some of which are under the airport’s or government’s control, while others may not be. The current state and future outlook for national carriers is also an important element to consider.
JH: Passenger experience is also a key factor to consider when expanding/ creating new infrastructure. How well is this being managed in the African environment?
ML: For constrained airports, increasing capacity is often the first priority. This usually also improves the passenger experience as congestion is relieved. However, airports could certainly pay more attention to the passenger experience and be more explicit about this in their development plans. Airlines can also play a role, by pro-actively communicating their needs and wishes to the airport and being an active participant in the planning and design process. Taking a more passenger-centric approach to terminal building design will really improve the experience of travellers and can also boost commercial revenues!
JH: Which African project are you most excited about at present and why?
ML: Obviously the shiny new terminal buildings and greenfield airports attract most of the attention – the New Bugesera International Airport in Rwanda is particularly exciting as it will open up the country to the next level of growth. However, I am just as excited about some of the smaller expansions and upgrades to various regional airports. I think a lot can be done to increase capacity and improve on passenger experience through creative thinking and proper planning, even on a small budget. The upgrade of Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania, which is nearing completion, is a great example of this!