An airport is only as good as the airlines that fly to it, and in the last article, we addressed the latter in great detail covering the airlines big and small of the DRC. But these airlines require airports to fly to, and it’s time once again to dive back into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and discover its airport landscape.
According to IATA (The International Air Transport Association), there are 61 registered airports in the country with international codes (and many more regional landing strips). But only a few are key airports, four in fact, that have the passenger numbers that justify attention. Let’s start with the largest airport in the country.
N’djili Airport (N’Djili International Airport and Kinshasa International Airport)
The first of the big four airports are the N’djili airport serving the capital city of Kinshasa. It has a single 4,700-meter runway with a new terminal started in 2015 to expand operations up to one million passengers a year. Yet for the city size of fifteen million people, the airport is remarkably less traveled highlighting the large wealth gap. It is the home of Congo Airways and is served by local airline FlyCAA, and has flights from thirteen different international carriers such as Turkish, Air France, and Ethiopian. Unfortunately, not one of these international routes is operated by the state carriers due to the distrust of the local aviation authority, although attempts have been made in recent years to elevate the airports and the airlines to the level required by states such as the EU.
The airport has a new terminal under construction that will cover 40,000 square meters and expand the tarmac of the airport facilities by 75,000 square meters. The airport authority also plans to build a new 1200 space car park and construct a new parallel taxiway.
In addition to N’djili Airport, there is the small N’Dolo Airport in the city center that is used for private flights and domestic turbo operations.
Lubumbashi International Airport
To the very far south of the country is Lubumbashi Airport, which serves the city with the same name. With a long runway of 3,200 meters, It is remarkably well connected, with flights to Johannesburg, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, and Kusaka, as well as destinations throughout the congo. Part of the popularity is the airport’s unique location, its proximity to the second-largest city in the country, and, of course, access to the largest mines in the country. The resource industry powers this airport, and makes it popular for cargo and passenger operations – potentially the most lucrative in the country with even other regional airlines, like South Africa’s Airlink starting flights here.
“Airlink is looking forward to establishing direct services and flying our brand new colors – between the region’s important mining and minerals centers and supporting commerce, trade, and tourism between the two countries,” said Airlink CEO Rodger Foster in a press release in late 2020. “Our services to and from Lubumbashi will provide travelers with seamless connectivity onto Airlink’s new direct flights linking Johannesburg with Cape Town and with Durban”.
Kisangani Bangoka International Airport
The city of Kisangani is served this airport and is located to the North West of the geographical center of the country. Because of this location, the city and its airport are the most important commercial hub for the greater Congo nation (especially along the Congo River, which Kisangani forms the natural upper limit). The airport itself has an undamaged runway of 3,500 meters and is served by not only FlyCAA and Congo Airways, but also Ethiopian Airlines who have recognized the value of this destination.
Goma International Airport
Goma Airport is located on the extreme east of the country right near the board of Rwanda. It is unique that its runway was partially destroyed by a lava flow – reducing it from 3,000 meters down to 2,000 meters in 2002. Aerial imagery as recent as 2017 showed that the airport had still not repaired the runway. This lava flow has separated the terminal building from the runway, and thus a temporary apron had to be built to connect the two. This lava flow has already contributed to the destruction of two planes – one when the lava initially flowed and another when a plane overran the runway (and into the now rock) in 2009. This hazard is truly remarkable and highlights the very unique challenges that aviation in the DRC faces.
The airport has been highlighted as a point of interest for the UN peacekeeping operations in the region and thus has been somewhat repaired for nighttime operations.
“MONUSCO will be moving its headquarters to Goma, which made it critical to upgrade the airport to the latest standards and make it functional for nighttime operation. Not only was the new airfield lighting system and rehabilitation of the airport important to our missions, but it will also have a big impact on the economic development in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said UN Project Manager Engr. Jacques Tshimpanga.
The airport is still served by the two carriers of the country, FlyCAA and Congo Airways. However, apart from UN charter flights, there are no other international services (thanks to the condition of the runway).
DRC has a Huge potential
Understanding the airport landscape of the DRC paints a startling picture of the aviation industry as a whole – one struggling to match its neighbors and serve its people. Without serious investment in its facilities, either through government investment, international aid, or a private partnership, it seems that tales like these will be commonplace yet. But at Eways Aviation, we’re sure that the RDC has the ability to become a strong African nation in the future, and the potential in terms of development of its aviation landscape is huge due to its size (it’s the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa), its population (105 million), and its incredible amount of natural resources.