Even many aviation enthusiasts don’t know much about African airports if they are based in the United States. Do you know which airports on the continent are the busiest and how many passengers they welcome a year? Keep reading to find out!
Table of Contents
- 15. Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja
- 14. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, Plaisance
- 13. Monastir Habib Bourguiba International Airport, Monastir
- 12. Hurghada International Airport, Hurghada
- 11. Tunis-Carthage International Airport, Carthage
- 10. King Shaka International Airport, Durban
- 9. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi
- 8. Menara Airport, Marrakech
- 7. Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos
- 6. Houari Boumediene Airport, Algiers
- 5. Mohammed V International Airport, Casablanca
- 4. Cape Town International Airport, Cape Town
- 3. Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa
- 2. Cairo International Airport, Cairo
- 1. O.R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg
Africa is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world for air travel. Some experts predict that the number of people flying to and from the continent will double over the next two decades! That means that many of these airports will experience plenty of growth in the coming years.
Africa is a growing market for tourism as more and more people from Europe, Asia, and North America want to see what the continent has to offer. Africans themselves are traveling via plane more as many countries experience a growing middle class as well as diaspora members traveling home from abroad.
This list uses 2019 passenger arrival statistics to create the rankings. Many airports haven’t published 2021 numbers yet, and those numbers don’t offer a complete picture of the busiest airports anyway due to travel restrictions.
15. Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja
Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja is one of the busiest airports on the continent. In the year 2019, 3.5 million people flew through this airport.
Although it is located in the capital, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport is not the biggest airport in Nigeria. That makes sense since the capital, Abuja, also isn’t the biggest city in Nigeria—that title belongs to Lagos.
Abuja’s airport is one of the most modern in the country with a new terminal built in 2002 and constant renovations to ease the flow of air traffic.
14. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, Plaisance
The tiny island country of Mauritius has one of the busiest airports on the continent. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport had 3.6 million passengers in 2019.
This is particularly impressive because the population for all of Mauritius is just 1.3 million people!
Many of the people traveling through Plaisance’s airport are tourists, who come to Mauritius in droves to see the country’s pristine beaches. The airport is not in the capital of Port Louis but further away because it was built by the United Kingdom when it ruled the island.
13. Monastir Habib Bourguiba International Airport, Monastir
Monastir Habib Bourguiba International Airport in Monastir, Tunisia, is one of North Africa’s busiest airports. In 2019, the airport welcomed 3.8 million passengers.
Many of the people flying into this airport were international tourists. Monastir is a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea that is itself a popular tourist destination and offers easy access to other popular attractions such as Sousse.
Monastir’s airport fell in the rankings in 2021 due to restrictions on international tourism but will probably bounce back soon as the tourism industry continues to recover.
12. Hurghada International Airport, Hurghada
Hurghada International Airport is another North African airport that thrives on tourism. This airport in Hurghada, Egypt, welcomed 4 million passengers in 2019.
Hurghada is not Egypt’s most famous city or its biggest, but it is the most prominent on some tourism brochures. That’s because Hurghada is on Egypt’s Red Sea coast. Officials call it “the gateway to Egypt’s Red Sea Riviera.”
Most international flights from Hurghada go to Europe because that is where most of the tourists come from.
11. Tunis-Carthage International Airport, Carthage
Tunis-Carthage International Airport is the largest airport in the small North African country of Tunisia. On average, it welcomes 4 million passengers annually.
Carthage International Airport is also the hub for Tunisair, Tunisia’s national carrier.
Passengers traveling through Tunis-Carthage International Airport are a mixture of tourists, Tunisians going abroad for work or pleasure, and diaspora returning home to visit family.
10. King Shaka International Airport, Durban
South Africa is home to some of the continent’s busiest airports. One of them, King Shaka International Airport in Durban, saw 5.5 million passengers arriving in 2019.
King Shaka is one of the most modern airports in South Africa with spacious terminals and large jets that accommodate intercontinental liners such as the Airbus A380.
Interestingly, this airport is named after King Shaka, the founder of the Zulu kingdom.
9. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi
Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is one of East Africa’s busiest airports. In 2019, the airport handled 6.1 million passengers.
Many of the people passing through this airport are international tourists hoping to relax on Kenya’s beautiful beaches or visit the amazing national reserves.
However, COVID-19 heavily affected the airport because international tourism nearly stopped. It did, however, lead to an increase in the airport’s cargo traffic.
8. Menara Airport, Marrakech
Menara Airport serves Morocco’s capital city of the Marrakech-Safi region, Marrakech. In 2019, this modern airport saw about 6.3 million passengers.
Even though it’s located by the regional capital, Menara Airport is not Morocco’s biggest airport (that title belongs to Mohammed V International Airport).
However, Menara Airport is still an important hub for connections to Europe, particularly discount flights. It also offers a few domestic flights.
7. Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos
Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria’s bustling biggest city, is also the country’s busiest airport with about 7.3 million passengers in 2019.
Lagos Airport is also home to many of Nigeria’s aviation authorities, including the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria.
Lagos is also an important hub for cargo coming into Nigeria. The airport handled 187.49 million tons of cargo in 2019.
6. Houari Boumediene Airport, Algiers
Houari Boumediene Airport is located near Algiers, the capital of Algeria. It handled 7.5 million passengers in 2019.
The airport is actually much larger than its passenger numbers indicate. It has four terminals and could handle up to 22 million passengers annually, but the aviation sector has not made use of this space just yet. Maybe in future years, we will see more travelers coming into Houari Boumediene Airport.
Like many of the other airports on this list, Houari Boumediene Airport is named after a president, Algeria’s second since independence.
5. Mohammed V International Airport, Casablanca
Morocco’s largest airport is not located in its capital but in Casablanca, the city made famous by the World War Two movie. In 2019, the airport welcomed 10.3 million passengers.
Casablanca’s airport is bigger than the one in Marrakech because the national carrier, Royal Air Maroc, uses it as its primary hub.
Mohammed V International Airport was actually built by the US military, who used it as an airfield in 1943. As fans of the movie will know, Morocco was an important stopping point in the Battle of North Africa. Tourists arriving at this airport may not know about its important military history!
4. Cape Town International Airport, Cape Town
Cape Town International Airport is one of the busiest on the continent, with 10.9 million passengers traveling through it in 2019.
Most of those passengers probably left the airport pretty happy with their experience. That’s because, according to Skytrax, Cape Town International is the best airport in Africa—and has been for seven years in a row.
Travelers transiting through Cape Town International Airport can enjoy friendly service, modern facilities, and connections to all continents as well as many destinations within Africa.
3. Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa
East Africa’s biggest airport is Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport. In 2019, the airport welcomed 12.1 million passengers.
Bole International Airport is the hub for Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest flag-carrier airline. It is well-connected within the continent and beyond.
Bole International Airport shows no sign of stopping its growth. Its infrastructure is already well-developed, ready to handle tens of thousands of daily travelers during the peak season.
However, authorities are planning construction projects to make the airport work smoother and to turn it into a connecting hub for flights across Africa (Currently, most intercontinental travelers to Africa transit through Dubai.).
2. Cairo International Airport, Cairo
Egypt’s capital and most populous city is also home to North Africa’s busiest airport. In 2019, it recorded a record number of 19.6 million passengers.
Like most other global airports, Cairo International Airport saw passenger numbers drop drastically in 2020 due to the pandemic. However, it is hoping to recover quickly as international travel and tourism recover. Cairo International Airport is a gateway for international tourists hoping to see the amazing wonders of Egypt, including the pyramids.
Besides having the infrastructure to support millions of passengers annually, Cairo International Airport wants people to have a good time while they’re there. The airport boasts many entertainment options including its very own mall.
1. O.R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg
The busiest airport in Africa is in Johannesburg, South Africa. O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is South Africa’s most important aviation hub, welcoming 21 million passengers in 2019.
Johannesburg is an important hub for domestic, international, and intercontinental flights. South Africa has many busy airports because the country is so large that flying is often the most efficient way to travel between different cities.
The airport underwent a necessary name change in 2006. It proudly bears the name of anti-apartheid hero Oliver Reginald Tambo, which is much better than when it was named after Jan Smuts, a former prime minister and proponent of apartheid.