Sierra Leone Hopes To Attract Airlines With New Freetown Terminal

Credit: Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority

Turkish construction Summa has completed a new 14,000-m² (150,000-ft.2) terminal at Freetown International Airport in Sierra Leone, under a $270 million build, operate and transfer contract with the Sierra Leone government.

The new terminal has five times the passenger capacity of the old facility and will be able to accommodate eight widebody jets simultaneously. It has a wave-shaped roof and is powered by a 1.5 megawatt solar farm, making it the first fully green airport terminal in West Africa. Operations will begin imminently, but the transfer from the existing terminal is likely to take a few months to complete.

“We have an ultramodern air terminal that is three times larger than the existing terminal and has brand new facilities that will accommodate up to a million passengers a year, to make it a major transit hub in the sub-region,” Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio said on opening the new terminal on March 6.

Summa took on construction costs in exchange for a 25-yr. management contract. Once this is completed, Summa will hand over ownership to the Sierra Leonean government.

“Already, we have at least three more international airlines that have shown interest in landing at this airport,” Sierra Leone Transport and Aviation Minister Kabineh Kallon said.

Freetown’s 3.2-km (2-mi.) runway, taxiways and aprons were recently resurfaced and the airport’s communication beacons have been modernized. The new terminal also includes improved cargo handling and a new air traffic control tower.

The next stage of development includes a new five-star hotel. This is aimed at attracting airlines to overnight their aircraft at the airport, because local facilities do not meet international air crew requirements.

Sierra Leone was a winter-sun holiday destination for Europeans in the 1970s and 1980s. However, during the 1991-2002 civil war, almost all international airlines suspended operations. Then Sierra Leone was hit by Ebola in 2014 and COVID-19 from 2020.

Despite these numerous shocks, passenger numbers have increased from 65,000 to 246,000 between 2000 and 2019. The government is now hoping to revive the country’s tourism industry and position Freetown as a West African aviation hub, attracting scheduled and charter flights to the UK and European capitals.

The airport is located at coastal town Lungi. To get to Freetown itself, passengers need to cross the Sierra Leone River by boat, which is an 8-km crossing that takes about 40 minutes.

“The country’s Atlantic coastline, especially along the Freetown peninsula only a short drive from the capital city, offers some of the most pristine tropical beaches in the world, as well as low-lying islands with huge potential for high-value, low-volume destination-marketing development,” the stakeholders said.

This is the first international passenger facility to be built in Sierra Leone since the country gained independence in April 1961. The old building—which was built by the UK Royal Air Force in the 1940s—will likely become Sierra Leone’s military air operations headquarters.

Victoria Moores

Victoria Moores joined Air Transport World as our London-based European Editor/Bureau Chief on 18 June 2012. Victoria has nearly 20 years’ aviation industry experience, spanning airline ground operations, analytical, journalism and communications roles.