Senegal economy hoping for takeoff with new airport
Senegal opens a flagship new airport on Thursday seven years later than originally planned but with ambitions to become a West African regional hub with a capacity for 3 million passengers.
Senegal President will cut the ribbon at Blaise Diagne International Airport (AIBD) at midday in the town of Diass, 47 kilometres from the capital of Dakar, while a plane from new airline Air Senegal will make the first symbolic takeoff.
Work began in 2007 on the €645 million ($767 million) airport under former President, but unforeseen problems and a change of Construction Company have repeatedly delayed the project and ballooned costs.
Blaise Diagne named after the Senegalese MP who was the first African elected to France's parliament at the heart of Sall's "Emerging Senegal" plan, which includes the construction of a new city, Diamniadio, close to the site in Diass.
As the country invests more heavily in tourism, Senegal is also betting on the facility's strategic position close to several beach resorts that are already heavily frequented by European holidaymakers. "The airport will be key in the promotion of 'Destination Senegal'," Prime Minister said in a speech on Tuesday, adding that airport services at the site would contribute to the development of the special economic zone nearby.
With a capacity of three million passengers, Blaise Diagne will still rank far below the busiest African airports and a long way off challenging Nigeria in the West African region, though plans for up to 10 million travelers are in the pipeline, according to officials.
Passenger numbers have increased in recent years at Dakar's current airport in the middle of the city, leading to long waits at security and contributing to chronic traffic jams, and the old Leopold Sedar Senghor airport will become a military airfield from Friday.
The new airport boasts six footbridges direct to flight cabins, and will be able to service a range of aircraft including Airbus's massive A380s.