in Features / Airports

The way Lusaka will live next...

Posted 1 August 2019 · Add Comment

As African cities recognise the value of extending in and around airports, Chloe Wilson takes a closer look at the plans behind Lusaka’s Airport City.

According to John D Kasarda, author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next: “The 20th century was about cities building airports. The 21st century will be about airports building cities.”
Airports have evolved beyond the traditional boundaries of being glorified waiting areas and increasingly act as urban microcosms with cities developing around them. Nowhere is this more evident than with the rise of the airport city.
Offering retail opportunities, commercial premises, accommodation, entertainment and conferencing facilities, airport cities – or aerotropolis – are becoming destinations in their own right.
But more than that they are socio-economic powerhouses generating jobs, revenue and infrastructure opportunities. And, as airport cities continue to emerge around the globe, African airports and authorities are getting in on the act.
Lusaka is certainly gaining weight in the African airport sector. Zambia recorded a 10.5% increase in passenger traffic in 2018 over 2017 across all four of its international airports, with its primary hub, Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in the Zambian capital, handling 70% of total general passenger movements last year.
To address further projected growth in air traffic passenger numbers and cargo volumes, Kenneth Kaunda is currently undergoing an extensive expansion project with the new passenger terminal due to open in October 2019.
The upgraded facility will have the capacity to handle three million passengers per year with the total cost for the renovation project in the region of $360 million.
Situated just 27km from the city centre and positioned half way between two of Africa’s largest hubs – Nairobi and Johannesburg – Lusaka is ideally situated to become a regional aviation hub for southern Africa.
“This is a primary focus for Zambia Airports Corporation Limited (ZACL),” explained Fumu Mondoloka, managing director, ZACL. “In line with the corporation’s strategic plans for the years 2017-2021, we have embarked on new revenue-generating projects and have engaged the services of the Dutch-based consultancy firm, Netherlands Airport Consultants (NACO), to develop a land utilisation plan for several pieces of land at Kenneth Kaunda.”
Having worked on various airport and airport city projects, including Amsterdam, Shenzhen, Mexico City and Western Sydney, NACO has a proven track record to support ZACL’s ambitious airport infrastructure programme. “ZACL wanted to develop the vast land reserves between the airport and the city centre and, through NACO’s base in Johannesburg, we entered into discussions about three years ago,” recalled René-Alexander Marey, senior architect and head of the airport city design group within NACO.
“The airport offers unrivalled access to the Zambian market, but also it has huge potential to serve as a gateway to the 14 surrounding countries and capital cities,” Marey said.
“It has always struggled with its lack of port access but, in fact, its strategically and conveniently located for the big air carriers and has earnt a reputation for political stability, having managed to avoid much of the war and upheaval that has afflicted its neighbours.” What’s more, Lusaka is believed to be the fastest growing city in central Africa, according to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and Zambia as a country has one of the world’s fastest growing populations with the UN predicting numbers will triple by 2050.
While plans are already under way to develop various facilities, including a shopping mall, office park and hotels, as part of Lusaka’s Airport City plans, Marey underlines that establishing an overarching airport development plan, including the airport city zoning plan, is a priority and “establishing reliable air services is integral to the overall plan”.
The revitalised national carrier, Zambia Airways, is due to begin operations later this year, but plenty of work is also being done to relaunch European connections that have been lost in recent years and Marey divulged that “connecting directly to Asia will also be big in terms of leveraging growth in the country’s tourism sector”.
Mondoloka agreed saying: “With the infrastructure investments taking shape, now is a great opportunity for us to address the growth of passengers through targeted solicitations to airlines. We are in the process of commissioning an air service development assignment that we are confident will underpin our growth in terms of traffic and passengers. This will direct our geographical position to attain our aspiration of being an aviation and logistics hub for the southern African sub-continent.”
Describing the country’s awe-inspiring natural landscape and its rich wildlife and cultural heritage, Marey concurs that Zambia’s tourism industry has the potential to be massive. Traditionally, the country’s economic growth has relied primarily on its mining industry. But diversification is vital for sustainable growth and both agriculture and tourism have been identified as having the potential to enhance the economy and encourage greater foreign investment. Lusaka’s Airport City will feed into both these sectors.
“Airports and airport boards have increasingly focused their attention on creating airport cities largely to become less dependent on aeronautical revenue,” noted Marey. “But they are also recognised as engines for regional growth – Lusaka Airport City, which will include retail facilities, hotels, commercial spaces and a conferencing centre, will contribute towards the development of the country’s existing industries as drivers of growth, but it will also complement these with new opportunities and better the lives of those living locally.”
The land that’s currently been earmarked for NACO’s development phase of the airport city belongs to the airport and covers 550 hectares. Although Marey says that the final project will be bigger, the total land allocation is yet to be confirmed. And, as part of NACO’s planning, it has established flight paths and noise contours to enable sustained development surrounding the airport.
The meetings, incentive, conference and exhibitions (MICE) industry could be huge, so establishing a world-class conferencing venue, is key. “The kind of activities we’ve projected to be established in and around the airport city should profit from the inbound air traffic, but they should also be generating traffic,” said Marey. “Having a world-class conferencing centre will be a reason for people and businesses throughout the region to travel to Zambia, whatever industry they’re working in.”
There will also be a business cluster with offices for those enterprises that see a benefit in being located close to the airport, as well as an agro cluster featuring storage for agricultural products and the processing that will take place in this area. Referencing how, in previous years, Zambia enjoyed a ‘blooming’ flower export industry, Marey underlined how the increased storage, as well as the ability to ship produce more easily by air, will help revitalise agriculture and horticultural exports among other industries.
In addition, a university research cluster within the airport city will also create and support educational and learning opportunities.
To enhance surface access, the ministry of transport is also looking at developing a train link from Lusaka to the airport via the airport city, although Marey advises that “a high-quality bus service is more suitable initially as it is scalable and won’t take another 10 years or so to get up and running”.
“Architecturally, the whole development should express the Zambian spirit and style and it won’t be high density. It will reflect the landscape in which it is located, rather than an urban landscape and will be as eco-friendly as possible, with renewable energy sources where conceivable,” said Marey.
He added that his team has been sensitive to the natural habitat and ecosystems currently occupying the land to be developed, which “is largely agricultural, but still an important ecological corridor”.
And, for the local community, the benefits of the airport city are huge, asserted Marey. An underlying principle is to create permanent, sustainable jobs to improve the lives of those living locally, but also to communicate a message of stability, opportunity, sustainability and desirability to the rest of the world.
Of course, the development of the airport city resides currently at the mercy of the success of the airport itself and ensuring it achieves its threshold of at least three million passengers annually. Otherwise the airport city simply isn’t sustainable.
But, with a strategic framework and a clear roadmap that will promote socio-economic growth while adding value to the airport’s non-aeronautical revenues in a sustainable way, the future certainly looks promising for ZACL’s ambition to become the aviation and logistics hub for the southern African sub-continent with Lusaka’s aerotropolis at its core.

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