ETHIOPIA – Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest carrier, plans to start building a new US$5 billion airport in six months, its CEO, Tewolde GebreMariam, said. Ethiopian’s rapid expansion is causing it to outgrow its current base in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.

The airport, which will cover an area of 35 square km, will be built in Bishoftu, a town 39 km south east of the capital, and have the capacity to handle 100 million passengers a year.

“Bole Airport is not going to accommodate us; we have a beautiful expansion project. The airport looks very beautiful and very large but with the way that we are growing, in about three or four years we are going to be full,” Tewolde said.

“We have not only survived but also we have grown. So all the targets that we have planned for vision 2025 are completed by 2018.”

Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa has a passenger capacity of about 19 million passengers annually.

Tewolde noted that the price tag of the new airport was higher than the US$4 billion cost of building the still-to-be-completed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile, with the projected passenger numbers topping those at Dubai’s international airport.

He did not give details of how the construction would be funded, nor who would build the new airport. He added that authorities in the Oromo region of Ethiopia are cooperating to secure the land.

When the idea of building at Bishoftu was discussed in the past, an airport with a capacity of 80 million was mentioned.

The new facility would reduce congestion at Bole, Addis Ababa’s present international airport. Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s largest airline by fleet size and revenue; however the country’s air infrastructure has not kept pace with its growth.

Less than a decade ago, Bole handled fewer than a million passengers a year, but that rose to 7 million in 2014. Passenger numbers are expected to continue increasing by about 18% a year.

A US$225m terminal, funded by China and built by China Communications Construction Company, was completed at Bole in January last year, with 28 check-in counters and seven gates. The Chinese company is presently working on a US$138m project to expand and renovate Terminal 1.

State-owned Ethiopian Airlines, which competes with large Middle East carriers to connect long-haul passengers, has built a patchwork of African routes from its hub in Addis Ababa to fly customers towards expanding Asian markets.

It has 116 aircraft in its fleet and its net profit rose to US$260 million in its 2018/19 financial year from US$207.2 million a year earlier.