Djibouti’s big cargo dream

Djibouti International Airport hopes to become a conduit for air cargo to Africa’s landlocked nations. The airport in the tiny nation of less than one million people on the Horn of Africa took its ambitious plans to the Transport Logistic exhibition in Munich in June. It was the first time the airport had forayed into the world of trade shows.

DIA has big plans for expansion of its cargo infrastructure, and a new airport is scheduled to open in about four years. Airport officials hope that is enough to entice air carriers and logistics specialists to take a long look at Djibouti.

“We are looking for partners,” Moussa Houssein Doualeh, air operations cargo manager for DIA, says. “This is our first trip as an airport. We are trying to catch the rest of the world.”

Djibouti’s air cargo operation is small, just 3,000 tonnes per year. Doualeh hopes the exposure gained in Munich will send those numbers upward in the coming years.

DIA’s facilities, in Doualeh’s words, “do not answer all the requirements” for a significant cargo operation, but that will change later this year when a 4,000-sq.-ft. warehouse with cold storage capabilities opens. Long-range, the plans are more grandiose with a proposed US$600-million project to develop a new airport about 15 miles from Djibouti City. The current airport has just one runway and handles only commercial and military aircraft. A nearby U.S. military base shares the runway.

Djibouti, with the fifth largest container port in Africa, already has a major sea cargo operation, and DIA officials envision development of a sea-air cargo model where products arrive at the Doraleh Container Terminal and are transported to the airport for flights into Africa’s interior. The idea is to entice shippers to bring their sea cargo to Djibouti rather than Dubai.

“Come to Djibouti instead of Dubai,” Doualeh says. “We want to develop a sea-air model and see how we can fit and connect with the landlocked countries in Africa. We want to find partners to bring shipments from the Far East to Djibouti and dispatch them to the landlocked countries.”

Doraleh Container Terminal opened in 2009 and the Djibouti Ports & Free Zones Authority plans further expansion, which will accommodate three million containers per year by 2015. Port officials say this expansion will make the port the largest container terminal on the continent.

Doualeh has talked with Emirates, Etihad Airways and DHL about development of cargo operations at DIA. He says he is optimistic these talks will be fruitful.

Doualeh cites Ethiopia and Nigeria as two significant landlocked markets that could be served with air cargo flights from Djibouti.

“Everything going to Ethiopia comes through Djibouti,” he says. “Eighty million people are being fed by road. We are a very small country, but our seaport is one of the best in the region. We are trying to save time for the shippers, the transporters and the customers. We are working with the seaport to see how we can bring things along with this sea and air movement.”

DIA also envisions air cargo possibilities beyond Africa to Western Europe and the east coast of North and South America.

Doualeh says DIA is prepared to entice air carriers with reduced rates for landings and handling for the first six months.

He says cargo from the Far East takes 80 days to reach Lagos, Nigeria. Developing airfreight infrastructure in Djibouti would allow that time to be reduced drastically.

“It takes just three and a half hours from Djibouti to Lagos by 747. That’s 100 tonnes straight away from Djibouti to Lagos,” Djibouti says. “We need professional logistics people to set it up. The rest will come easy.”

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