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Rwanda | Inside Kigali International Airport Expansion Works

Rwanda | Inside Kigali International Airport Expansion Works 

Julius Bizimungu | New Times 

A team of workers supervised by engineers are putting finishing touches on some of the major sections of Kigali International Airport as part of the expansion works.

Workers and trucks are seen clearing the new apron – an airport parking – which according to Rwanda Airports (RAC) engineers is 53,000 square metres with capacity to accommodate 18 aircraft.

Next to it is a newly completed arrivals terminal for domestic flights, those that are operated by the national carrier to and from local airports like Kamembe in Rusizi or Rubavu, among others.

To the other side, a runway strip grading is taking place, while a few metres away, a team of electricians are installing public lighting on a new service road which stretches 3.3 kilometres.

Kamanzi Kamana, the director of engineering and maintenance at RAC, a company in charge of the airport operations in the country, says such a road would minimize disruptions or risks that may arise on ground.

“The new service road is meant to curtail risks like accidents that may occur when vehicles are crisscrossing around the airport ground as planes are landing or taking off,” he says.

On the other hand, the strip grading is meant to avoid runway incursion, – any occurrence involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft.

At the airport main building, construction crews are working on an arrivals terminal meant to increase passenger area space, to avoid long queues and comply with internationally accepted standards.

Another project seen as critical is the expansion of parking area for ground support equipment, which according to Kamana will be eight times larger than the existing area.

Some of the construction which involves disruption of passenger traffic is being completed weeks, if not months, ahead of schedule.

Under normal circumstances, due to high passenger numbers, much of the construction would need to take place overnight in relatively short windows to minimise the impact on travelers.

However, with far fewer guests, the work is taking place during the day and crews are able to work for longer periods of time.

Increased capacity

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has taken a heavy toll on air transport services, has allowed the government to embark on expansion of major areas of the airport to increase its capacity.

For the past two months, air travel, especially commercial passenger services have been on hold as the country, like the rest of the world, is dealing with the highly contagious virus.

Kamana highlights that the new arrivals terminal for domestic passengers can accommodate somewhere between 100 to 150 or even 200 depending on the traffic, but currently there is limited domestic traffic.

Works on the existing arrivals terminal, which was mixed-use, are expected to be completed next month, and once done, the new facility will be in conformity with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards and regulations.

“The terminal is being upgraded to expand the arrivals processing area, and reduce queues to comply with ICAO standards. Previously, a passenger had 0.7 square metre per passenger but with the upgrade it will be 1.2 square metre,” he told this publication.

The existing apron was able to accommodate about 26 aircraft, according to airport officials, but with the newly added apron, the parking capacity will increase to accommodate 44 aircraft.

Kigali International Airport, one of the continent’s top recognised airports, has received a boost in the recent months as Rwanda was preparing to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2020.

Claver Gatete, the Minister for Infrastructure told The New Times that expansion works of the airport kicked off in September as part of the broader efforts to prepare for CHOGM, which was postponed.

The works, whose budget officials did not disclose, are being jointly funded by RAC and the government.

He said it was generally important to invest in increasing the airport given the growing demand for aviation services.

“We have to expand and have this airport working because of the increasing number of passengers. It’s not just the passengers but also the cargo services,” he noted.

RAC says that over $30 million was invested in the upgrade of the airport during 2014 and 2017, allowing it to have a new apron, three taxiways, a hangar and an upcoming upgrade of airfield lighting.

Recent maintenance and upgrade activities were meant to reduce congestion at the check in and arrival areas, expand the departure lounge area, increase VIP comfort, and enhance baggage handling efficiency.

New airport

Last year, Kigali International Airport processed at least 1.2 million arrivals, according to the minister, and that the idea is to direct financial resources towards building aviation.

“We have chosen to develop aviation as part of developing our economy, and with that, we are continuing with Bugesera Airport which is going to be a bigger airport,” he noted.

Qatar Airways has made a substantial investment in airport infrastructure through Bugesera International Airport that is being built in Bugesera District.

In December last year, in the presence of President Paul Kagame and Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar and Rwanda signed three agreements that saw the two parties set up a joint venture to build, own, and operate the airport.

The investment by the Qatari Government in the airport in Bugesera is expected to ultimately handle 14 million passengers annually, double Kigali International Airport’s current capacity.

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