If you are new to the region, what does the aviation and airport landscape of Central Africa lookalike? And armed with this knowledge, what opportunities exist for those in aviation? For a start, let’s take a look at which countries are part of Central Africa and at the key airports of the region.
What is Central Africa?
Central Africa, or Middle Africa, is comprised of the following countries: Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Rwanda.
Naturally, such a vast area would have a myriad of cultures, economies, and people. Yet linking them all together is aviation. But unlike the aviation landscape of Europe or North America (where it seems even small country towns have daily jet aircraft service), aviation in Central Africa is not as established. Even a brief look online on Google Maps reveals a map full of connectivity gaps.
According to AirportCodes.io, there are 46 major airports on the African Continent and 431 medium-sized airports that can support lighter passenger aircraft. But not all airports are equal. Some are small regional airstrips for private use only, and others lack the infrastructure to support international aircraft.
For example, of the 38 airports registered in the Central African Republic, only three have paved runways and only five are open to international arrivals.
This means that operators in the region need to be careful which routes they plan. The aviation industry’s growth in this region is limited until additional government support is given to the sector.
What are the major airports in Central Africa?
Angola – Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport (LAD)
Angola’s biggest airport is Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport. The airport has two runways with up to a length of 12,190 ft (3715 meters), which are equipped with lights and can operate at night. The airport sees around 5.6 million passengers per year and services carriers like Air France, Emirates, Lufthansa, and Ethiopian. It is also the hub airport for Angola’s national carrier, TAAG. The airport is struggling to cope with current traffic numbers as it is located in Luanda – Angola’s capital city and primary port.
But of all of this about to change with the construction of Angola International Airport, a new facility 40 kilometers to the South-East of Luanda’s city center. It will be able to ferry 13 million passengers per year and will have 12 gates. It will also have two runways – both of which will be longer than the current airport’s longest runway. Lastly, the airport will also have an extensive cargo handling facility. The airport is being fully funded by the Chinese government as part of its international “Belt and Road” initiative. It is expected to open around 2022.
Burundi – Melchior Ndadaye International Airport (BJM)
The only international airport (and the only paved one) in Burundi is the Melchior Ndadaye International Airport. At over seventy years old, the airport has a single 3,600-meter runway and transports around 160,000 passengers per year. This airport is in a dire need of an upgrade, but some airlines like Air Tanzania, Brussels Airways, Ethiopian, and others see enough of an opportunity here to continue fully scheduled services.
Cameroon – Douala International Airport (DLA)
Cameroon’s international link to the outside world is rather bustling compared to that of Burundi. For one, 1.5 million people use this airport every year, and it’s the hub for Camair-Co, the nation’s flag carrier. It also has international links with Air France, Turkish Airlines and Kenya Airways. The airport was recently renovated in 2019 and boasts a few international features, but still needs some upgrading to keep up with traffic demand.
The Central African Republic – Bangui M’Poko International Airport
The Central African Republic’s major entry point is Bangui M’Poko International Airport, located around seven kilometers to the North of the capital city of Bangui. The airport had around 120.000 passengers before the conflict in the region in 2012, which was shocking considering it only has a maximum capacity of 10.000 passengers. Its main international routes are operated by Air France to Paris, Kenya Airways to Nairobi, and Royal Air Maroc to Casablanca. The airport’s runway is quite short at only 2,600 meters and the airport is currently missing facilities commonly found in other airports.
Chad – N’Djamena International Airport
A single runway serves both the civil and military aviation industries in Chad. This airport is the only international airport in the country and is shared by the French Air Force. Because the European country has invested so heavily in the airfield, civil operations can take advantage of ATC services, excellent radar, and a 24-hour runway. Many international carriers serve the airport, such as Air France, Turkish Airlines, Sunan Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, EgyptAir, and more. There is also a large cargo facility there with routes to Dbaim Luxembourg and Cairo.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo – N’djili International Airport (FIH)
The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s key airport serves up to 800.000 passengers per year. It is also the hub for the national carrier Congo Airways. It is one of four major international airports in the country.
The Republic of the Congo – Maya-Maya Airport & Agostinho-Neto International Airport
There are two key airports in the Republic Of The Congo (not to be confused with the Democratic Republic above). They are Maya-Maya Airport on the Atlantic coast, serving the capital city and Agostinho-Neto on the southern border.
Maya-Maya has seen the most improvement, with a vast new 3.300-meter long runway built back in 2010 and a new terminal with three jet bridges. A second terminal was completed with assistance from the Chinese government.
Agostinho-Neto is much older (built back in the 1950s) but was expanded in 2006. It is surrounded by the city landscape of Pointe-Noire, and serves many of the same destinations as Maya-Maya, with routes as far away as France.
This country has two major airports of note.
Malabo International Airport, which is located on Bioko Island to the north. It is primarily a tourist destination with lucrative routes to Turkey, France, Germany, and Morocco.
The second airport is Bata Airport, which services the biggest city (Bata) in the mainland. This airport does not have night lights and cannot operate in the dark. It can only service around 15.000 passengers per year and only narrowbody aircraft can land here.
Gabon – Léon-Mba International Airport
Gabon has one major airport that can support international services. It is showing its age however and was built back in the 1950s. But it has an impressive list of destinations compared to other airports on this list, linking to places as far away as Paris, Istanbul, and Casablanca. The inter-Africa route network is so strong that this airport is a good contender for those airlines looking for a new hub airport.
Rwanda – Kigali International Airport (KGL)
Transporting 700.000 passengers a year, this airport is quickly becoming a major hub of Central Africa (especially considering its neighbor to the south). The airport services a slew of international carriers like KLM, Turkish Airlines, Qatar, Kenya Airways, and more. The facilities are very modern, clean, and efficient, and resemble a lot of European airports.
In our next article…
Read our next article about “Aviation Growth opportunities in Central Africa” in which we take a deeper look at the aviation landscape in Central Africa.