By Keith Mwanalushi
As passenger numbers increase the use of ageing airport infrastructure can distort the dynamic working balance required for modern and efficient airport operations. These factors have catalysed the most significant regeneration of Zambia’s main commercial airports.
Ambitious plans have been set in motion to develop a sophisticated airport system in Zambia replacing the colonial infrastructure that is now constrained and outdated.
The principle airports operated by Zambia’s National Airports Corporation Limited (NACL) include the main capital- Lusaka International Airport (LUN); and three other International airports: Livingstone(LVI)- gateway to the Victoria Falls area; Ndola (NLA) in Zambia’s copper mining heartland and Mfuwe(MFU) that provides access to the world-renowned Luangwa National Park.
A $725,000 US funded study by the aviation consultancy group LeighFisher has identified the future requirements of Zambia’s four main commercial airports. “The master plan as well as a feasibility study identified the main facility needs,” said Justin Powell, one of two directors at LeighFisher that handled the project along with Gene Lewis.
“Lusaka is clearly the main gateway with three other airports that have very specific roles within the airport system. Certain facilities were in much greater need of development than others, so we made an initial appraisal of that – the main focus was a terminal facility development,” Powell notes.
The study also scrutinised the general outlook of the Zambian economy and the traffic outlook at those airports. Powell emphasised that the master plan had a 2019 – 2029 design period, as well as a longer-term visionary Creating a regional hub Lusaka airport is undergoing the most extensive expansion that will be phased over the next few years.
According to NACL a new $200 million terminal building designed for international arrivals and departures will replace the current facility, as well as the construction of auxiliary infrastructures such as aprons and taxiways.
A new control tower will also be developed on the west side of the new terminal building. Lusaka airport was built in 1967 and has only seen minor upgrades over the decades. The new terminal will be located adjacent to the current facility.
“We developed a plan which is constructed in phases in which the initial phase is to build a new terminal at Lusaka.
The initial terminal – just like the old terminals at Heathrow for example – were simply worn out and they did not meet modern international travel needs – that’s the main thing that we did” said Gene Lewis.
Lewis also states that in the context of airfield capacity the long term plan went beyond the 20-year horizon that will see the expansion of the airfield in order to support passenger and cargo operations. “The long term objective is so that the airport does not become constrained,” said Lewis. LUN was designed to handle 2 million passengers annually.
NACL figures indicate a 13.5% rise in passenger numbers in the past five years. In spite of the global financial meltdown, it registered a 6% growth in 2009. Lusaka’s growing role in the COMESA region is also another passenger stimulating factor as the city is playing host to several regional and International conferences.
NACL projections show that passenger and cargo volumes are expected to increase over the next few years. In recent months, five new African carriers have initiated services to the airport. It is imperative for the authorities to determine what role Lusaka airport plays in the regional context in order to maximise its position.
Firstly, its central location – within a 2-hour flight to surrounding capitals in Southern Africa should be exploited for regional connections. Lusaka is positioned half way between two of Africa’s largest hubs – Nairobi and Johannesburg.
NACL has noted the significance of this position as Prince Chintimbwe, director of air services explained: “There are some positives and negatives that we can draw from our location between two major aviation brand airports in Africa.
The negative being that it makes it increasingly difficult for us to grow as a dominant airport hub in the region because we are competing against larger and well tested hubs with excellent infrastructure and strong national airlines.
” Chintimbwe then points out that this position can also work in their favour if the airport can be turned into a feeder airport for the two major hubs. “This can be achieved through the development and expansion of the existing infrastructure and the establishment of a strong national airline to serve the Southern African region and provide traffic to the major airlines through Lusaka.
” Lusaka actually generates most of its traffic through the two hubs. Chintimbwe says that Nairobi sees a lot of cargo from Zambian and regional merchants returning from shopping trips to the Middle East and the Far East. Johannesburg pulls in large numbers of tourists coming into Zambia.
Mr Chintimbwe said: “For us, we cannot be a Jomo Kenyatta or an Oliver Tambo overnight, we have much to learn from the two major hubs as we develop our own. While there is competition, both hubs are not killing us because we are benefitting immensely from them and it is helping increase our passenger and cargo numbers.
” The absence of a viable flag carrier is a key concern since the demise of Zambia Airways in 1995. Some local analysts have pointed to the government for having no political will to get involved in the establishment of a new solid airline.
“The fact that we don’t have a strong national airline has really affected the expansion and development of Lusaka International Airport, since we need a strong base airline to increase revenue and to share a common national vision,” said Mr Chintimbwe. Lusaka-based private carrier Zambezi Airlines is growing but lacks the competitive strength to compete with the likes of Kenya Airways and South African Airways.
The Department of Civil Aviation’s speedy exit from the European Union’s list of banned countries will also boost the performance of indigenous carriers. LUN sits on nearly 2,000 hectares; only 200 hectares has been developed. NACL plans call for the new terminal complex to be linked to a free economic zone covering 500 hectares on the western fringes of the airport.
The project is being developed by a Chinese consortium. Betting big on tourism Livingstone is Zambia’s tourist capital and home to the Victoria Falls. The airport’s redevelopment is already at an advanced stage.
“At LVI they had some issues in which parts of the existing terminal were extremely deficient and there were public safety problems,” confirms Lewis. He noted that local architects had already begun to undertake the initial design of the major expansion of the passenger terminal.
They were beginning to start designing short term patching up of the existing terminal which would have been costly according to Lewis. Lewis said; “In the course of our study we worked with the local architectural and engineering firms that were beginning to design this patch up at the existing old terminal.
However It could never be a suitable terminal for a major tourist destination area in any country – so we decided to accelerate the work that was being done on a design of a new terminal at LVI and when we finished our conceptual planning for a brand new terminal, the local architectural group immediately began to design it on an accelerated basis” Lewis indicates that the Zambian architects were able to complete the working drawings and contract drawings at an extremely accelerated rate of less than six months. The terminal was put out to bid and construction began while the study was still going on.
“Honestly speaking we have worked on at least 200 airports over the last 50 years and that is the fastest new terminal project that we have ever been associated with anywhere in the world. I have to give credit to the technical and decision making capabilities of the Zambian government and the airport operators,” emphasised Lewis.
LVI was established in 1950 to serve the domestic market but today the airport attracts traffic from other Southern African countries predominantly South Africa – British Airways/Comair, 1time and SAA all operate regular services from Johannesburg while Zambezi Airlines connects Livingstone with Cape Town.
“Construction work at LVI has already begun,” confirms Chintimbwe. “The work will be carried out in three phases. We have already started phase one, which will involve the construction of a new concourse and the international departures terminal.
” Phase one is expected to be complete by April 2012. NACL says that phase two will begin immediately after and will include a new arrivals terminal complex for international passengers, a drop -off zone and walkways. For the third and final phase NACL will install new ground handling equipment and self-check-in kiosks.
“These items have already been procured,” said Chintimbwe. The existing passenger terminal is expected to be converted to handle domestic operations. Statistics provided by the Zambian Ministry of Transport and Communications indicate that LVI handled 208,122 passengers in 2008 compared with 33,849 back in 2001.
The tourism sector was affected by the global recession in 2009 registering a drop in numbers to 153,601. However Chintimbwe says there are indications that the 2008 record – that was the best year for all four airports will be beaten. Mfuwe airport is the eastern gateway to Zambia, priding itself as the access point to the South Luangwa National park.
The Mfuwe area is highly regarded as having great potential to become a major echo-tourism destination and it’s vital that it captures that tourism ethos. Lewis observed that Mfuwe is half the size that it has to be.
“We have suggested housing the administrative facilities in the old terminal building paving way for a new flexible open terminal which is designed to specifically present the right atmosphere to arriving tourists in the Mfuwe region.” Facilitating mining and cargo traffic Ndola International is the country’s oldest airport, originally set up in 1938 as a British military airbase.
It was converted to civilian use in the 1950s but retained some military activity. Zambia’s current copper mining boom is fuelling growing passenger and mining-related cargo in the copper-belt region. A Canadian firm recently invested $1 billion in a new copper mine while the level of Chinese investment in mining continues to rise.
Justin Powell elaborates on the recommendations; “A consistent theme at all the airports was that the main and immediate focus was on the terminals – Ndola was heavily capacity constrained.”
“Philosophically these days, what you want to do is build a box that has a flexible interior because you don’t know what the design philosophy or what the needs of passengers in 30 years time will be. That’s the issue right now at Lusaka and Ndola airports because they were built back in the 1950s and 60s.
” Lewis also adds that the present Ndola terminal was built on the centreline of the parallel taxiway to the runway. “That is not a desirable condition for a civilian airport. One of the advantages of building a terminal well away from the taxiway is that if so required, that taxiway can be extended all the way to the end of the airfield. That is more desirable from a commercial aircraft and operational standpoint.
” Under the proposed master plan, NACL will invest $25 million in a new passenger terminal at Ndola. International Passenger traffic has traditionally been routed via Lusaka but NACL indicates that there is growing interest from regional airlines to tap into the growing numbers at Ndola stimulated by the mining activity.
Kenya Airways launched operations between Ndola and Nairobi last year to allow easy connections to destinations in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East as well as access to the Skyteam global network. “We are not only looking at passenger growth,” Chintambwe said.
“We are also placing a strong emphasis on cargo numbers out of Ndola, because there is huge potential in cargo traffic. In fact Ndola airport is also serving the mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
That is what we are working on as we shift into the expansion mode for the airport.” The ‘aerotropolis’ concept International evidence now shows that airports – and the commercial activities along their perimeters can lead to substantial economic benefit. Airports cities have been a runaway success in several locations worldwide but much depends on local circumstances. “There are really two underlying components for an airport city- one is effectively the supply, in that if you supply transportation hub into a region there is the opportunity for it to stimulate the local market. Secondly, the underlying demand driven by economic growth that would wish to access airport facilities. We are seeing this economic growth in Lusaka,” said Powell.
LeighFisher’s long term plan recommends that commercial developments should not interfere with the aeronautical developments of these airports. “There is need for caution and to allow only the type of developments that are compatible with the continued development of the airport – discouraging things like low density residential housing near the runways,” adds Lewis.
Powell is optimistic that airport cities can develop around the Zambian airports; “If you believe that there will be a need for additional distribution, office park, light manufacturing in the Lusaka region for example, and the same for Ndola to support the mining industry – and if you believe these are useful economic drivers, then the airport will likely benefit from their development.
Certainly for Lusaka we made allowances for an airport hotel and conference centre, particularly if we see more connecting activity.”
Courtesy of National Airports Corporation Limited