While their skies are by no means among the busiest in the world, most African countries have experienced an increase in demand for air travel during the first two decades of the 21st century. In this post, we look at the busiest airports in Africa and where the continent’s main air hubs are.
There is limited data available on this topic and given that and the impact of the pandemic from 2020 onwards, we have used figures from 2018 and 2019 as documented here. Figures are rounded up to the nearest 100,000. For the purpose of this article, we are not classing Spanish islands such as Tenerife and Gran Canaria as part of Africa.
The Busiest Airports in Africa by Passenger Numbers
1. Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport, South Africa
Johannesburg is the busiest airport in South Africa and the busiest airport on the African continent. It handled over 20 million passengers in 2019. However to put that in some context, even if those figures had been doubled, it still wouldn’t have been one of the top 50 busiest airports in the world.
It was named after anti-apartheid politician Oliver Tambo in 2006 and has the capacity to carry upto 28 million passengers although the impact of Covid-19 suggests it may still be some time before it nears capacity.
There are technically six terminals in the airport although these can loosely be broken down into Terminals A and B with some divisions for international and domestic travel. It is one of the few African airports with a relatively large number of inter-continental air links with connections to destinations such as London, Beijing, Sydney, New York and Dubai.
Number of Passengers in 2019: 21.7 million
2. Cairo Airport, Egypt
Cairo International Airport is considered the biggest airport in Africa by size, covering nearly 40 square kilometres in total. It is located in the suburb of Heliopolis around 15 km northeast of the central business districts of what is a vast city. In the pandemic-impacted year of 2020, it was actually Africa’s busiest airport but during normal times it just lags behind Johannesburg.
The city’s location, close to the meeting place of three continents suggests Cairo has the potential to really expand and compete with major Middle East hubs such as Abu Dhabi and Doha. However the lack of a high quality international airline and a number of security issues both inside the country and involving Egypt and air travel in recent years have held it back.
EgyptAir, Nile Air and Air Arabia operate the most flights out of Cairo with connections to a host of major European and Arab cities.
Number of Passengers in 2019: 15.0 million
3. Addis Ababa Bole Airport, Ethiopia
Addis Ababa’s Bole Airport is another of the biggest airports in Africa. We don’t have figures for 2019, but in 2018 it handled more than 12 million passengers, making it the third busiest on the continent and that was also the case in 2020.
The main reason for Addis Ababa being one of the busiest African airports is its status as the main hub for Ethiopian Airlines, by far the biggest success story when it comes to African airlines. It is the continent’s largest airline in terms of passengers carried and remarkably ranks 4th globally in terms of the number of different countries it serves. As you might imagine, the vast majority of flights in and out of Addis Ababa are Ethiopian Airlines services with connections to cities all over the planet including New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and São Paulo.
As of December 2021 though, the country is currently locked in civil war with rebel forces advancing on Addis Ababa which could have a severe impact on both Ethiopian Airlines and air travel into the city should the situation continue to escalate.
Number of Passengers in 2018: 12.1 million
4. Cape Town Airport, South Africa
Back to South Africa for number four where Cape Town Airport offers one of the most spectacular descents in the world. It has domestic and international terminals linked by one common terminal.
A large amount of traffic at Cape Town Airport is down to passengers flying to Johannesburg which is one of the busiest air routes in the world and the busiest in Africa with 4.5 million people flying between the two cities in 2018. The good news for travellers is that Cape Town is a modern airport with good facilities and it is best voted the best airport in Africa virtually every year.
Cape Town is not only one of the best cities to live in South Africa, but also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa and attracts visitors from far and wide with long-haul services to cities such as Paris, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Singapore.
Number of Passengers in 2019: 10.8 million
5. Casablanca Mohammed V Airport, Morocco
At number five, we have Casablanca’s Mohamed V airport, the busiest in Morocco. That may come as a surprise to some given Marrakech is by far the country’s most popular travel destination but there are a few reasons why Casablanca is busier.
The first is that Casablanca is by far the biggest and most important city in Morocco. It’s the main departure/arrival point for Moroccans heading to and from Europe or anyone doing business in the country.
It is also the main hub for the successful Royal Air Maroc airline which carries the national flag. The airline offers both domestic and international flights to Europe and beyond out of Casablanca with Air Arabia Maroc the only other really noticeable presence at the airport.
Number of Passengers in 2019: 10.3 million
What are the 10 busiest airports in Africa?
|Airport||Country||Number of Passengers in 2018|
|Johannesburg O.R. Tambo||South Africa||21.2 million|
|Addis Ababa Bole||Ethiopia||12.1 million|
|Cape Town||South Africa||10.8 million|
|Casablanca Mohammed V||Morocco||9.7 million|
|Algiers Houari Boumediene||Algeria||7.9 million|
|Lagos Murtala Muhammed||Nigeria||7.3 million|
|Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta||Kenya||7.0 million|
|Tunis Carthage||Tunisia||6.2 million|
These were the ten busiest airports in Africa in the year 2018 with Algiers, Lagos, Nairobi, Hurghada and Tunis completing the top ten in addition to the airports featured above.
The picture was a little bit different in 2020 with Abuja, Durban and Sharm el-Sheikh climbing into the top ten as Tunis, Nairobi and Algiers suffered the most severe drops as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic which continues to rage on as we head into 2022 which may again see vastly reduced passenger numbers in comparison to pre-2020 levels.
Africa Airports Map
This post on the busiest airports in Africa was published in December 2021.