Race for the West African Aviation hub intensifies
Persuaded that it was the right course of action to take, Senegal in 2007, commenced work on a new international airport that would replace the old one. On Thursday, that process was completed as the Francophone West African nation opened the runways of the new facility with high hopes that it would soon grow into being the travel hub for the region.
The new Airport International Blaise-Diagne is planned to anchor Senegal’s economic and tech centre. Located some 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the capital, Dakar, there is however a very visible limitation: a connecting train service which is an adjoining part of the project is yet to be completed!
But there are also positives. Built at an estimated cost of $575 million, the facility is five times bigger than the old one. It is also expected to be patronised by 3 million passengers in its first year, 5 million in 2023 and 10 million in 2035.
With its completion also, the facility would join in the race for the West African air hub. And for this, it has worthy competitors from the likes of the Murtala Muhammad International Airport in Lagos, and the International Airport in Lome, Togo, which is the base of operations for ASKY Airlines. There is also the Abidjan International Airport in Cote d’Ivoire.
One immediate development on Thursday also was that as the new facility opened for business, the Leopold Sedar Senghor international airport, located in the congested capital, was simultaneously closing its doors (This may be one more lesson for the Lagos airport). The old airport has presently been handed over to Senegal’s military even as airlines like Delta, Royal Air Maroc, TAP and others have presently confirmed that they are switching their operations to the new facility.
A management company, Limak-Aibd-Summa, has been signed on to run the facility and one of the additional attractions is that the airport sits between the capital and beach towns that authorities hope will draw more tourism.
Indeed, part of the considerations for choice of location is the imperative of spurring further economic growth in an area that remains largely farmland. Accordingly then, an international conference centre and hotel have been constructed and a sports arena and a housing estate are under construction.
To ease the shuttle between the capital city, Dakar and the new facility, the local bus company Dakar Dem Dik is deploying 40 buses that will ply the route 24 hours a day. Part of the rationale for this is to ensure affordability given that commuting by taxi could cost airport users as much as $30 per trip.
And one final plus: early users have commended the facility’s size and modern finish. But are these enough? And if Lagos is yet interested in being the aviation hub of the region, can it pay the price?