The ministry is expected to award the contract in September and work will start on the project at the beginning of next year, the official confirmed.

Potential operators will first have to finish construction of the airport, as the outer shell of the passenger terminal is still only 85 per cent complete. When finished, the building is expected to service 6 million passengers a year, bringing the total number of travellers using the airport to 8.5 million a year.

In 1999, government body Societe Investissement & Exploitation Gestion Aeroport (SIEGA) was established to finance and manage the reconstruction and development of the airport, 20 kilometres east of Algiers. SIEGA issued a tender inviting companies to act as partner and/or promoter to formulate and finance a build-operate-transfer (BOT) programme. The selected partner was to become a shareholder in the project through the creation of a joint venture with SIEGA or by other means. However the project was shelved and the government assumed direct control once more (MEED 8:10:99).

Sterling, with the Tunisian office of Ernst & Youngand US-based air transport consultant SH&E, was selected as adviser last April. The group completed due diligence on the airport at the end of last year.