The Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport in Luanda was inaugurated in 1954

In our previous article, we discussed how the government of Angola plans to overhaul its aviation airline sector with privatization and plenty of investment. But this is only half of the puzzle, with the government also implementing ambitious goals to modernize its airport infrastructure – including building some of the best new airports in Africa.

Quatro de Fevereiro Airport

The main international airport of Angola, located in Luanda, is Quatro de Fevereiro Airport. It originally opened back in 1954 as Aeroporto Presidente Craveiro Lopes, named after the Portuguese President (Angola was a colonial state of the European power). When the local government secured its independence years later in 1975, it was renamed the Fourth of February International Airport in honor of the events that led up to independence.

Today it serves as the main hub of the country, home to the country’s airlines (all of them use the capital airport as their main hub) where passengers depart from to travel throughout Africa, Brazil, Europe, and the Middle East – making it surprisingly well connected. It has two asphalt runways, one of which is over 3,400 meters, and is capable of facilitating large international aircraft.

However, this airport’s terminal building is approaching its 70 year birthday, and it’s starting to show. Despite being renovated multiple times (as recently as 2006) to increase its capacity up to 3.6 million, the airport saw 5.6 million passengers in 2018 alone – a solid two million more than expected. With no more room to grow, the government has put together a plan to build the city a new airport.

What is the new international airport?

Started in 2004, the new unnamed international airport will be a significant upgrade over the existing facility. Measuring 50 square kilometers, the airport will have a gigantic 160,000 square meter passenger terminal, with a 6,200 square meter cargo facility capable of handling 35,000 tonnes of cargo per year. In total, it will have the capacity for 15 million passengers per year, ten million from international traffic and five million from national traffic.

It will also have two parallel runways, each over 3.8 km long able to take any aircraft (including Airbus A380s or larger like the AN-225). There are also plans for the airport to be a railway hub, for trains to the capital forty kilometers away, and other regional destinations beyond.

The site will cost around $3.8 billion US to build, with the first stage (runways) delivered in 2012. Funding for this project has come entirely from the Chinese International Fund as part of their greater Road and Belt initiative.

Constructing the airport of the future hasn’t been easy, however, with work stopping soon after phase one due to financial and engineering issues. The Angola government had to rework its contract and find a new construction company, this time the Aviation Industry Corporation of China group, with significant changes to the runways and terminal building pushing back the opening from 2017 to 2022. As of June 2020, the airport project has hit further delays, and its opening date has been withdrawn from the public.

“With construction again halted this goal too seems unrealistic,” said Gabinete de Operacionalização do Novo Aeroporto Internacional de Luanda (GONAIL, the operations office of the new Luanda International Airport) to press.

“The Airbus A380 airplane, which the runways were designed to accommodate, is no longer being built and is falling out of use, and the global airline industry is now in upheaval, with uncertainty surrounding the medium-term prospects for many airlines in the wake of the pandemic. When and if the new airport finally opens, it is unclear what kind of world it will be serving”, 

What about other key airports?

Angola’s airport scene is much greater than its old and new international airports with 51 airports scattered around the country, it truly is its own massive internal market. Here are some of the key airports in the country.

  • Cabinda Airport – Serving the northern Angola enclave, this airport facilitates travel in and out of the region to the rest of the country. As the region is bordered in from all sides, for domestic travel to work, it must be served by airlines.
  • Catumbela Airport – A secondary international airport to the two mentioned above, this airport is perfectly situated for future tourism flights with a capacity of 2.2 million passengers per year. The government recently invested in this site, with renovations in 2019 to bring it up to an international standard.
  • Lubango Airport – Another international airport, this facility serves the capital city of the Huíla Province in Angola. It is well connected to the rest of the country’s network, with some airlines considering turning it into a secondary hub (as this airport still operated during the international Covid lockdown).
  • Welwitschia Mirabilis Airport – The last international airport on this list is located on the southern coast.

Into the future

Angola has played it smart and through government investment, slowly brought its vast airport network up to an international standard. It has hopes that Luanda’s new international airport will become the new hub of Southern Africa, beating off long-time rival Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. Whether or not this plan will work remains to be seen, but for many, it’s looking like the sleeping giant of Angola is slowly waking up.