Senegal’s new international airport was opening its runways Thursday as the West African country hopes to become a travel hub for the region.
Airport International Blaise-Diagne, which had faced more than 10 years of delays, is meant to anchor Senegal’s economic and tech center. The airport has had mixed reviews with its location of more than 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the capital, Dakar. A connecting train service is still years from completion.
The airport, with an estimated cost of $575 million, is five times larger than the old one. It is expected to see 3 million passengers in its first year. The government is aiming for 5 million passengers in 2023 and 10 million in 2035.
A number of cities in West Africa are competing to be the region’s air hub including Lome, Togo, which is the base of operations for ASKY Airlines, and Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
Leopold Sedar Senghor international airport, located in the congested capital, was closing Thursday and has been handed over to Senegal’s military. Most airlines including Delta, Royal Air Maroc, TAP and others have confirmed they will switch over once the old airport closes.
The new airport is vital to Senegal’s growth, said Tidiane Tamba, spokesman for its management company Limak-Aibd-Summa.