The project directorate for Khartoum New International Airport (KNIA) has signed the contract for its second phase to China Harbour Engineering at Bahrain Airshow, where officials detailed plans to develop the airport into a major hub for Africa.

The $680m contract for the second phase of the $1.38 billion project, which is located at a 100km2 site 45km from Khartoum, was signed by Fatima Abdullatif, its engineering director, and Zhang Wenfeng, a representative for China Harbour Engineering’s regional operations.

KNIA’s first phase will soon replace the existing two million passenger capacity airport in Sudan’s capital with a 4.5 million capacity terminal and a 4,000m runway, while the second phase will further this increase capacity to 12 million passengers, and add a 3,200m runway.

China Harbour Engineering, also the main contractor for the $700m first phase of the project, is scheduled to commence the second phase in May, and finish the construction by July 2015.

Sudanese finance minister Ali Mahmoud Abd Al-Rasool addressed the signing ceremony, explaining that given its geographical location, the airport would positively impact Sudan’s economy, as well as Africa’s, and predicting that it would revive Sudan’s foreign trade.

“Khartoum is the centre of Africa,” commented Mohamed Hassan Elmugamer, a consultant on the project. “It used to be a main transit point but we lost the opportunity. Now is the chance to get back. The roads and highways are already in place.”

Project director Abdullatif also thanked Bahrain for providing an international platform where the signing could take place. “There are a lot of opportunities,” she added. “We want the private sector to get involved in the project in areas such as cargo and MRO. Now is the time to be talking.”

In terms of the financing for the project, a large tranche of the funds were delivered last year through a preferential loan from the Export-Import Bank of China that will be repaid within 15 years, with terms of a five-year grace period and a less than five percent down payment.

At the time, diplomats told Reuters that China “waited with the loan until Sudan agreed to allow South Sudan’s oil exports to transit through its Port Sudan port.”