07.12.2020 in Marketing
An Aerotropolis Plan for Ethiopia


For centuries, the development in the world has been transit-oriented. The prevailing dominant mode of transport dictates the location and depth of development. The first wave of development during the 17th century followed the growth of seaports. The second wave of development that happened during the 18th century saw the development of towns and cities along rivers. By the 19th century, development followed the patterns of establishment of railroads and had gravitated towards suburban roadway systems by the 20th century. Today, the future of development lies in aeroptropolises. Development in the 21st century will be directed by the Metropolitan sub-regions whose infrastructure and economy center on an airport. Several cities have already initiated projects to construct aerotropolises including Denver, Memphis, Amsterdam, and many others in the Far East and Europe. In Africa, there is only one functional aerotropolis, the Ekurhuleni Aerotropolis in South Africa. Building two aerotropolises in Ethiopia will not only have an impact of redirecting the air traffic in the whole of Africa but will also, essentially, make Ethiopia the de facto transportation hub of Africa.

The Need and Plan for Building the Aerotropolises

Currently, there is only one operational aerotropolis in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. However, the facility is located at the south-end of the content, making it harder for many of the African countries to leverage or otherwise benefit from the synergies it creates. The construction of the two aerotropolises in Ethiopia will, therefore, have a greater impact as Ethiopia is more centrally placed as compared with South Africa. The aerotropolis will impact the East Africa, Central Africa, North Africa, and even the West Africa regions.

Furthermore, the Ethiopian economy has proven one of the fastest growing in Africa for the past decade. In the last ten years, the Ethiopian economy has averaged a growth rate of 10%, the most by any country in the sun-Saharan Africa. As such, Ethiopia has initiated several ambitious projects to further grow its economy, some of which it has collaborated with its neighbors. For instance, it has constructed the second urban metro system in Africa, with the other one being South Africas Gautrain. The Addis Ababa metro system is, in fact, the only first light rail system in the whole of Africa. Ethiopia has also participated in other projects including the LAPSSET project, a collaborative effort with Kenya to build a modern harbor and transportation system linking the Lamu port on the Indian Ocean and Addis Ababa. Ethiopia is also interested in the Standard Gauge Railway system that is connecting Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. The aerotropolises will, therefore, fit in its greater plans of becoming the regional transport and communication hub of Africa.

The plan for building the two aerotropolises in Ethiopia involves a three-staged implementation master plan. First, the airports will be built and developed to become fully functional. As they continue to operate, the other facilities complementing the airport such as the economic processing zones will be developed. The rationale is that the revenue that will be gained from the aviation-based activities can be used to facilitate a faster construction of the adjacent facilities, reducing the need for extensive external funding. The two aerotropolises will also be built in different areas of the country to promote simultaneous growth throughout the country.

Charter Cities

It is critical for these two facilities to function as charter cities. They are not an entirely new concept in Ethiopia as it is a federal republic made up of nine regions and two chartered cities; Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. However, this proposal is likely to face backlash because of the relatively instable political environment in Ethiopia. The move to conceptualize the aerotropolises as charter cities may be seen as some as a quest for autonomy, which is a pretty sensitive topic in Ethiopia as there is a perceived unequitable distribution of development, several regions feel marginalized by the central government.

Operating as charter cities will give the aerotropolises more incentives to develop themselves. They will have had their specific rules and even tax laws tailored to attract foreign investors and spur economic growth. Further, operating as charter cities will afford them the much-required flexibility they need to adopt new governance structures and economic models that are conducive to global business. Being subordinate to the rules of larger institutions such as the national and provincial administrations will create a conflict of interest and may compromise the desirability and attractiveness of the aerotropolises. Operating as charter cities, on the other hand, enables the facilities to enhance their attractiveness, for instance, through the adoption of alternative forms of property taxation and other incentives.

Proposed Geographical Locations

The two aerotropolises will be built in different geographical locations. Both will utilize the airports that have already been built and upgrade them into aerotropolises instead of starting from scratch. The first aerotropolis will be built on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. The aerotropolis will be located six kilometers away from the capital city, around the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, formerly known as Haile Selassie I International Airport. The airport is the primary hub of Ethiopian Airlines and has the required adjacent land where expansion can be carried out. Furthermore, there is already a fully-functional metro system that was built in 2015 that serves the area and which will be completed in a few years time. It complements the already developed road system with a state-of-the-art highway connecting the airport to the center of Addis Ababa.

The second aerotropolis will be built in the city of Mizan Teferi located in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region in the Southwest part of Ethiopia. The aerotropolis will be developed around the Mizan Teferi Airport, a regional airport that serves the Southern and Eastern parts of the country and the neighboring South Sudan. The Mizan Teferi Airport is well served by surface transport network; however, that will have to be upgraded.

Description of the Facilities

The main facilities are the two airports, the Bole International Airport and the Mizan Teferi Airport. These airports will be upgraded to international standards through expansion. Currently, Bole International Airport has two terminals and 11 gates. It will be expanded to have five terminals and have five runways measuring 2.5 kilometers in length to accommodate heavy cargo aircraft. The Mizan Teferi Airport will be expanded to three terminals with five runways that measure 2.5 kilometers too.

Apart from the airports, the aerotropolises will also have business parks including almost 150,000 square meters of floor space for office suites, logistic parks, distribution centers, IT complexes, wholesale merchandise marts located around the airport. There will also be recreational parks, hotels and restaurants, shopping centers, clubs, conference halls, industrial economic zones, and space for freight forwarders such as DHL and CEVA Logistics among others. Crucially, the facilities will be served by a multimodal transport system comprised of five highways and a metro railroad system serving the suburban. The following Figure 1 shows an illustration of the various amenities that would be included in the aerotropolises.

Products and Services

Just like the other aerotropolises around the world, the two in Ethiopia will handle a wide assortment of products and enable the provision of various services. Since the core competency of aerotropolises lies in efficiency and connectivity, it is expected that there will be a high flow of high-value products and high-value people. Highly perishable products including flowers, Sushi-grade tuna, and electronics such as smartphones and laptops will be some of the major products in transit. People and lighter products will be the main products imported and exported through the aerotropolises. Investment bankers, business people, corporate lawyers, and freight forwarders are some of the professionals who will be providing non-aviation services in and around the aerotropolises.

Cost and Time to Construct

The average aerotropolis takes between 15 to 20 years to construct and become fully-functional. The length of the construction period is highly dependent on various factors including the level of financial commitment of the government, the availability of space, and the availability of auxiliary facilities to complement the project among many others. It is, therefore, projected that the two projects might take about 15 years to construct and become fully operational. However, that does not mean that they cannot start operating even if not at their full capacity. For example, the Ekurhuleni Aerotropolis that serves the Oliver Thambo Airport, Africas busiest airport, was started in 2011 and has already operational. Hence, it is possible for the two aerotropolises to start operating by the fourth year after the commencement of the construction. Regarding costs, the provisional budget is U.S $40 billion each. The estimation is based on the previous estimation of aerotropolises. The Ekurhuleni Aerotropolis, for instance, costs U.S. $8 billion for its first of four phases of the mega-project. The tentative budget may get bloated depending on the prevailing economic conditions.

Additional Infrastructure

Apart from the aforementioned amenities, the aerotropolises will require immense water supply and electricity. The water can be sourced from the River Nile and the rivers feeding Lake Turkana. However, the biggest challenge will be to get the additional power supply to cater for the increased demand for power. The Ethiopian government has already initiated a project to boost power supply in Ethiopia. The Gibe III hydropower dam is set to generate 1870 megawatts upon completion, which is almost twice the current Ethiopias generating capacity. It should, therefore, be sufficient to cover the energy needs of both aerotropolises.

Economic Impact

The two aerotropolises will have a massive impact on the Ethiopian and regional economy. The two facilities, constituting a mega-project, are expected to inject more than U.S. $10 billion a year into the Ethiopian economy. In 2012, Africa only tapped 2% of the global airport income; building the two aerotropolises in Ethiopia will redirect almost 5% of the global airport income to Africa.

Once fully operational, the facilities will boost the Ethiopian aggregate GDP, a developing country economy, by more than 5% a year. The facilities will be the catalysts providing the impetus to the already booming economy. They will attract international companies, some which should relocate their East African regional headquarters from Nairobi to Addis Ababa. Furthermore, it will significantly contribute towards reduction of the unemployment rates in Ethiopia. It should create nearly 4,000 direct employment opportunities in each of the aerotropolis and a further 10,000 indirect employment opportunities.


It is evident that Ethiopia should initiate the construction of the two aerotropolises. Ethiopia is strategically placed to become the transportation hub of Africa. It is more centrally placed as compared with South Africa, which is the current leader in transport and logistics. Furthermore, Ethiopia has already initiated a series of infrastructural developments including a trans-regional transport corridor, a metro system, and a hydroelectricity which perfectly complement the construction of the aerotropolises. The first aerotropolis will be constructed around Addis Ababa Bole International Airport while the second one around the nascent Mizan Teferi Airport. Since the two will only be the first aerotropolises in the central, eastern, northern, and western Africa, there is no telling the extent of economic and social impact it will have on the region.


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