Sierra Leone Freetown International Airport exterior

Press Release: Sierra Leone President opens new terminal at Freetown


Press Release hub banner blue with title in red white and blueSierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio today opened an historic new terminal building at Freetown international Airport, the latest milestone in a development plan positioning the pivotal West African state as an aviation hub.

The 14,000 m² terminal building, elegantly designed with a flowing wavelike roof, is three times the size of the airport’s existing terminal and will be able to handle up to 90,000 passengers per month, five times the current capacity, and eight widebody jets simultaneously.

As well as passenger departure and arrivals facilities it includes a VIP/Presidential channel, improved cargo handling and a new air-traffic control tower capped by a diamond design to reflect the country’s status as source of some of the world’s finest gems.

Sierra Leone Freetown International Airport exteriorPresident Bio said: “Today is a great day, a new day for all of us. This is the first time in the history of this country that a completely new international airport terminal has been constructed, one that has the latest technology and the highest compliance standards to make it more attractive to more international airlines. Today we have an ultramodern air terminal that is three times larger than the existing terminal and has brand new facilities that will accommodate up to a million passengers a year to make it a major transit hub in the sub-region. We now have on offer a safer, modern and very comfortable airport.’’

Food court in the new terminal at Freetown International Airport in Africa. There is a palm tree as well as other greenery in a large open space with large windows.The new terminal makes history as the first international passenger facility to be built in Sierra Leone since it gained independence in April 1961.

Sustainably designed with all its power needs met by its 1.5 megawatt (MW) solar farm, Freetown International Airport’s new terminal will be the first fully green one in West Africa.

A large open check in area at the Freetown International Airport's new terminal. Floor to ceiling windows create lots of natural lighting in the open space.The new terminal is the latest stage in a development plan to reboot aviation in Sierra Leone, once a regional centre for flying excellence with numerous scheduled and charter flights to UK and European capitals.

A large open hall in the departures area of the new airport terminal in Africa. A variety restaurants are available.Construction of the new terminal comes after the 3.2 km runway, taxiways and aprons were recently re-surfaced and communications beacon modernized at Freetown International Airport, or FNA to use its international air industry designator.

Kabineh Kallon, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Transport and Aviation, said: “An airport, as the first point of entry into a country, is the face of that country. This is our airport – the pride of Sierra Leone. Again, let us tell our own story to the world – that Sierra Leone is moving in the right direction, in the New Direction. Already, we have at least three more international airlines that have shown interest in landing at this airport.’’

The new terminal was built by Summa, a Turkish construction company with a worldwide portfolio of marquee projects including airports, convention centres and hotels.

It was constructed under a ‘build, operate and transfer’ contract worth USD270 million signed with the government of Sierra Leone.

Freetown International Airport's new terminal under construction.Under the contract Summa took on the capital costs involved in construction in exchange for the right to run the airport for 25 years, generating earnings to cover the outlay for construction, before handing over ownership to the Sierra Leone government.

Freetown International Airport's new terminal under construction.It is similar to the private public partnership model used in the United Kingdom to fund major infrastructure projects.

Runway at dawn at the Freetown International Airport in Africa.The next stage of the development plan is construction of a 5-star hotel near the airport along with residential and commercial properties. This would allow aircrew from international airlines to stay overnight increasing the appeal of Freetown as an aviation hub.

Hotel facilities near the airport currently do not meet standards required by international carriers such as British Airways.

The exterior gate area for boarding at Freetown International Airport. The airport’s existing terminal, built by the Royal Air Force in the 1940s when Sierra Leone was a British colony, has been refurbished piecemeal and extended repeatedly since independence in 1961. It is located on the southern side of the runway whereas the new terminal is on the northern side. New access roads and lighting have been constructed to connect the new facility with the existing road network outside the airport perimeter. 

The geography of Freetown, a city established on a mountainous peninsula in the age of sail, means its airport is located on the other side of the Sierra Leone River at a coastal town called Lungi where flat terrain makes take aviation viable.

Arrivals at Freetown International Airport use ferries or water taxies to make the 8km crossing to reach the city, a journey that takes about 40 minutes.

Air passenger numbers into Freetown have picked up dramatically since the 1991-2002 civil war that saw almost all international airlines pull out of Sierra Leone. In 2000, 65,000 passengers used the airport, a number that reached 246,000 in 2019.

But while peace has returned to Sierra Leone, once a frequently-visited holiday destination for Europeans seeking winter sun who in the 1970s and 1980s chose from numerous charter flights into Freetown International Airport, local aviation has been battered by other shocks.


In 2014 Sierra Leone alongside neighbouring Liberia and Guinea saw the world’s worst outbreak of the deadly haemorrhagic fever, ebola. The airport was closed for many months and some of the airlines who pulled out did not return when the airport was reopened.

The global Covid pandemic in 2020/21 caused another shock to Sierra Leonean aviation as the airport was again closed, although passengers numbers have returned quickly to pre-pandemic levels.

Increased international airlinks are key to another part of Sierra Leone’s future plan to develop tourism.

The country’s Atlantic coastline, especially along the Freetown peninsula only a short drive from the capital city, offers some of the most pristine tropical beaches in the world, as well as low-lying islands with huge potential for high-value, low-volume destination-marketing development.

Operations are due to begin imminently at the new terminal, although it is expected to take some months for all activities at the existing terminal to complete the transfer.

The fate of the old building is yet to be decide but it is likely to be taken over by the Sierra Leone Armed Forces as the headquarters of all military air operations.

Sierra Leone Freetown International Airport construction


Aviation began in Sierra Leone when it was a British colony with the first airfield constructed close to Freetown at a town called Hastings in the 1920s.

During the Second World War Sunderland flying boats from 95 Squadron Royal Air Force were based at a nearby seaside village called Jui, taking off and landing on the sheltered waters of the Sierra Leone River estuary for anti-submarine operations in the Atlantic.

RAF activity was then so busy a new fighter squadron, designated 128 Squadron Royal Air Force, was formed at the Hastings airbase to protect the submarine hunters.

Having outgrown Hastings the decision was taken to build a large airbase on the other side of the river at Lungi which had no space constraints. It was that RAF airfield that grew into Freetown International Airport of today.

The RAF returned in 2000 with Operation Palliser, the decisive military intervention by Britain to end Sierra Leone’s civil war of the 1990s. RAF Hercules flew British paratroopers to secure Freetown International Airport in the opening hours of the operation.

A combined United Nations and British army unit deployed to protect the airport at a perimeter village called Lungi Loi stopped a rebel patrol from advancing in a brief firefight in May 2000.

RAF Chinook heavy-lift helicopters also arrived at Lungi airport to move troops, civilian evacuees and UN peacekeepers in a series of operations credited with bringing an end to the war.

When the war eventually ended in 2002 an official event was held close to the airport at the Lungi Garrison when 3,000 rebel weapons were ceremoniously burned and Sierra Leone’s then president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, famously declared the war was over in the Krio language of Sierra Leone: “the war dun dun’’, he said.

All images credited to Sierra Leone/Freetown International Airport