Somaliland's gateway to opportunity

Recent work at Berbera International Airport in Somaliland has included a full refurbishment of the terminal building and the control tower, as well as investment in aviation security, ground-handling, firefighting vehicles, and connection of the airport to the city grid.

Berbera International Airport
Revamped: The new-look Berbera International Airport is unveiled. Picture: BIAC.

Although Somaliland declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991, it is still not recognised by the international community.

Despite this, it offers huge potential with its own currency, democratically elected leaders, a flourishing private sector, and a nascent tourism scene for those wanting to head off the beaten track.

Now the country is striving to achieve economic progress through collaborations with willing investors.

Abu Dhabi-based Terminals Holding is one such company that is seeking to leverage the opportunity for growth in Somaliland through its subsidiary, Transport Infrastructure Services Ltd (TISL).

In November 2021, in collaboration with the Somaliland Government, it opened the renovated and upgraded Berbera International Airport.

The airport’s revamp follows the recent expansion of Berbera’s port by Dubai-based DP World, as well as the construction of a highway linking the city to the Ethiopian border and the development of the Berbera Economic Free Zone.

“Our company’s mission is to provide a safe, secure, transformational and economically sustainable air transport gateway,” said Terminals Holding’s group director of operations, Dritan Gjonbalaj. “Our emphasis is on investing in emerging markets and creating value for our partners in the region. Where our competitors see a challenge, we see an opportunity.”

On top of that, he notes that Berbera is a vibrant and fast developing city, while Somaliland has a large diaspora spread throughout Africa, Europe and North America. Combined these two factors are driving demand for direct connectivity.

“We believe there’s huge potential for both passenger and cargo flights at Berbera and we are already working with different airlines to provide those travelling to and from the city with reliable and affordable air services,” he said.

As well as all the recent works, the operator also collaborated with UK-based Systems Interface Limited (SIL) to install a modern, fully automated VHF communications system, plus a solar-powered weather observation system (AWOS).

“We have also provided training for the operations team, who are all locally employed and are currently training our first batch of air traffic controllers from Somaliland in the UAE,” said Gjonbalaj.

With the first scheduled flights with Ethiopian Airlines to Addis Ababa due to start as African Aerospace was going to press, Christine Ikambili Wamakonjio, a ground-handling specialist at Berbera International Airport, revealed: “We are already engaged with Ethiopian Airlines and are now in discussions with other carriers to serve the airport.”

She added that while, initially, the routes served from Berbera would be regional, the plan was to develop the airport as a transit hub for east Africa. “We’re also keen to optimise cargo operations and leverage opportunities from this sector,” she said.

Her colleague, corporate affairs manager, Khalifa Ibrahim, added that Berbera is strategically located. “We are next door to Ethiopia and, with the recent development of the port, the airport is part of an important supply chain for the region. Hargeisa Airport in the capital is already a popular hub, so we know there is demand for air traffic. However, Berbera will be the only airport in Somaliland to operate 24/7.”

The city’s coastal location means Berbera is also a big fishing port and, with plans afoot to install cold storage facilities, the airport will facilitate more efficient export links for seafood and other perishable produce.

As for what will drive tourists to visit the region, Wamakonjio explained that, as well as being on the pilgrimage trail, Berbera offers beautiful, clean beaches, historical sites and a rich cultural history. “We are currently welcoming around 2,000 tourists and counting each month,” she said.

Chloe Greenbank

Chloe Greenbank

Chloe Greenbank wrote her first airline magazine article two decades ago and has been immersed in aviation magazines ever since.