The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 April 2013
John Baimba Sesay – China
This is encouraging news, given its strategic location – especially from the viewpoint of trade.
Sierra Leone’s development has been reflective in a range of areas. From infrastructure to energy generation and distribution, to the fight against corruption and image branding, we have continued to score the highest growth percentage.
This is also the case in the areas of promoting democratic credentials, which has today helped in gaining international recognition for our successes and more support for the country’s development.
Take for instance, the area of air transport; we recently got encouraging news following the signing last year of an agreement with the China Railway International Consortium for the construction of a brand new airport in the mainland of Mamamah in the outskirts of the country’s capital, Freetown.
This is in addition to the support for infrastructural projects in Sierra Leone by the Chinese government. This new airport in the mainland, when constructed, will help in fostering trade and in expanding our capital city.
A nation’s ability to encourage more direct foreign investment, very much depends on the image and quality of its international airport. An airport can stimulate economic growth and push forward a nation’s prosperity. To this end, Sierra Leone is no exception.
Upon his election in 2007, a rebranding campaign was introduced and led by President Koroma. He gave a facelift to the airport.
The Koroma government also started pursuing the urgent need to rehabilitate the airport so as to meet international standards. So, by 2010 and with the funding support of the World Bank, re-construction works – including the overlaying of the runway, widening of the taxi way and relocation of the ground lighting system were carried out.
In line with international best practice, we saw the procurement and installation of new scanning equipment for security screening of passengers, baggage and cargo.
This has today helped largely in addressing the most related concerns of the travelling public, airlines and the regulating bodies.
The re-construction of the airport will in the future, lead to an increase in business opportunities for the airlines and also grow the country’s export trade.
Many airlines that have been refusing to pick up cargo from the airport, due to the absence of scanning facilities, would then be able to use the airport.
There also has been the rehabilitation, modernization and expansion of the Presidential Lounge, as part also, of the rebranding efforts of government.
When completed, this will reduce congestion and improve security. It will enhance the comfort, convenience and safety of passengers, airlines and other users of the airport.
Also, with the political support given by the government, we saw the construction of heliports under the Airport Transfer Project, so as to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and safe transfer of passengers to the airport from Freetown.
With the heliports in place, the unsafe practice of having domestic helicopters operating alongside international flights on the same apron, which is against international best practice, would cease.
Today, we have seen an almost 100% improvement in the complete replacement and upgrading of navigational aid and communications equipment at the airport. This will enhance the airport’s profile on safety and facilitation of aircraft operations.
But the airport is faced with a number of challenges.
Of primary concern is that of encroachment of lands belonging to the airport authority, both at Lungi and Hastings. The lands ministry is now expected to provide the leadership in solving this problem.
Government’s continued support for the growth of the airport, especially with respect to the oversight functions of the Ministry of Transport and Aviation cannot be overemphasized.
Privatizing Hastings Airport will also definitely enhance domestic operations, thereby augmenting the airport’s revenue generation drive and thus reducing the burden on the airport in meeting its staffing costs.
There is a commitment to construct a cargo complex at the airport by the Grand Handling Company and this, when completed, will surely help stimulate growth in export and import.
This will also transform the airport to a regional hub for cargo trans-shipment, which subsequently will enhance economic growth at the country level.
It is in line with these opportunities that the nation will continue to commend the airport management, for the tremendous progress they have made in recent times, and in also encouraging them to continue with efforts at upgrading the profile and security capacity that will subsequently lead to more airlines into the country.
One cannot also over state the need for the airport management to constantly do a follow up on the construction of the Cargo Handling and Warehousing facility, which as I have argued earlier will stimulate export and import.
Facilitating domestic air transportation upcountry should also be considered, given the determination of the airport authority to decentralize its work.
This can be started by rehabilitating the aerodromes upcountry. The need for the airport management to also support government’s current efforts in constructing a new airport at the mainland, should also be considered, in support of the government’s Agenda for Prosperity – Sierra Leone’s blueprint for national development.