Senegal opens a flagship new airport on Thursday seven years later than originally planned but with ambitions to become a west African regional hub with a capacity for three million passengers.
President Macky Sall will cut the ribbon at Blaise Diagne International Airport (AIBD) at midday (1200 GMT) in the town of Diass, 47 kilometres (29 miles) from the capital of Dakar, while a plane from new airline Air Senegal will make the first symbolic takeoff.
Work began in 2007 on the 645 million-euro ($767 million) airport under former president Abdoulaye Wade, but unforeseen problems and a change of construction company have repeatedly delayed the project and ballooned costs.
Blaise Diagne — named after the Senegalese MP who was the first African elected to France’s parliament — is at the heart of Sall’s “Emerging Senegal” plan, which includes the construction of a new city, Diamniadio, close to the site in Diass.
As the country invests more heavily in tourism, Senegal is also betting on the facility’s strategic position close to several beach resorts that are already heavily frequented by European holidaymakers.
With a capacity of three million passengers, Blaise Diagne will still rank far below the busiest African airports and a long way off challenging Nigeria in the west African region, though plans for up to 10 million travellers are in the pipeline, according to officials.
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