By Abbas Jamie, Aurecon’s recently appointed Transport Industry Leader for Africa and Middle East

Transport corridors will be the core facilitators of Africa’s ongoing strong growth over the next decade, with many large regional rail, port and road projects already well underway. The transport sector that is set to boom is air travel, both passengers and cargo, with its ability to leapfrog the physical challenges to progress and help open up the economies of the numerous landlocked countries among the continent’s 54 states.

Underlying the ever-increasing pressure for change in Africa is its fast-growing middle class – 100 million inhabitants will have an income of at least US$3 000 a year by 2015 (Standard Bank).  It translates to increasing consumption of goods and a forecasted growth in air travel  and air cargo, requiring the transformation of  airport terminals into key transport ‘hubs’ and multifaceted tourism, retail and leisure developments.

The first phase of response to this demand is upgrading, involving new passenger terminals and freight handling facilities, runways together with general airside and landside resources, as well as air traffic control systems. There are exciting concepts that are germinating for the development of major airport hubs in West and Central Africa.

One of these, the Ekurhuleni ‘aerotropolis’ project, aims to optimise the positive effects the airport can have on the economy and on communities. Essentially, the aerotropolis is an economic development strategy designed to increase competitiveness in global markets, leveraging the access that air travel and air freight provides to global clients.

Critically, an aerotropolis is not simply building additional retail stores in an airport terminal or more light industrial parks on the land surrounding an airport. It is about taking advantage of all the economic opportunities an airport offers, reflected at times by new physical infrastructure, but also by alternative retail, entertainment, employment and commercial land uses – and these can stretch out in a radius 30km or more from the airport itself.

However, airports are complex, multifaceted projects that require specialised wide-ranging expertise to meet the commercial needs of airport operators, airlines and today’s increasingly demanding passengers.

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