Ethiopia doesn’t have Africa’s biggest airport yet—but it will

In its pursuit to become Africa’s gateway into the world, Ethiopia this week achieved a new milestone.

The Horn of Africa nation finally opened a new passenger terminal that is set to triple the size of the Bole international airport in Addis Ababa. Built to the tune of $363 million, the newly-expanded terminal will now be able to handle up to 22 million passengers from its current 7 million.

The state carrier Ethiopian Airlines also opened the capital’s biggest hotel in a bid to boost its foray into the hospitality sector and announced plans to offer free tours in the city for passengers transiting for more than 6-8 hours as it attempts to ratchet up its status as Africa’s leading international hub.

The new premise has created a buzz across the continent, with reports stating that Bole was now the biggest airport in Africa. Yet that distinction goes to O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg, which is the biggest and busiest airport in Africa—receiving over 21 million people annually with the capacity to process up to 28 million.

Data from 2018 obtained by Quartz Africa from the Airports Council International shows South Africa’s top three airports—in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban—served more than 37 million people in 2017 alone. South Africa is also the top nation when it comes to the share of passenger traffic in Africa and leads the share of aircraft movements across the continent.

In many ways, however, Ethiopia is winning the battle to become the aviation hub in Africa, thanks to Ethiopian Airlines rapid growth. Last year, Addis overtook Dubai as the largest air transport hub between Africa and the rest of the world. And with an operating fleet of 111 planes flying to more than 119 destinations, the carrier has grown to be Africa’s largest airline by revenue and profit, while South African Airways, is often on metaphorical life support as a business.

When it comes to cargo, it’s also set to beat South Africa: Johannesburg currently has a 650,000-ton cargo capacity while Addis is expected to process 1.5 million tons once its new cargo section is expanded.

And Ethiopian leaders say they won’t stop until they win this battle. “What we learn from today’s inauguration of the new passenger terminal is that we have a lot of work ahead of us,” prime minister Abiy Ahmed said during the recent opening, calling on the airline’s management “to aim for a bigger facility with a capacity to accommodate at least 100 million passengers.”

South Africa leads the share of African aircraft movement



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