Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh laid the first stone of a new Chinese-funded airport, part of an effort to turn the small Horn of Africa state into a regional travel hub at a cost of $599-million.
The investment, to be provided by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), will pay for the new Hassan Gouled Aptidon international airport in Ali-Sabieh, 25 km (15 miles) south of the capital.
The 1.5-million-passenger-per-year capacity airport, whose construction began on Monday, is to open in 2018 with runways big enough for modern commercial jets. It will also be able to handle 100 000 tonnes of cargo annually and generate 500 jobs.
"Its main aim is to enable our country to build a regional hub in the air transport sector," Transport Minister Moussa Ahmed Hassan said.
The $599-million will also cover the construction of a second airport in the north, near the Seven Brothers islands, with an annual capacity of 350 000 passengers when it opens in 2016, rising to 767 000 by 2021.
Air travel has increased in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years as economies have grown on a continent short of well-maintained modern road and rail networks.