Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 January 2023:
Last week, Sierra Leone’s ministry of transport and aviation announced in a public notice that Summa Airport Sierra Leone Limited will take over operations and management of Freetown International Airport – also known as Lungi Airport, as of last Friday, 20th January 2023.
Although this announcement does not come as a surprise to many, afterall Summa Airport (SL) Ltd and the government of Sierra Leone have a signed build, operate and transfer agreement in place; what is unclear, is what happens now to the old Lungi Airport, especially as the government is now also saying that the Summa built airport is a new airport – not a new terminal as previously informed.
So, is this a new airport?
Writing on social media last week, this is what the minister of lands – Dr. Turad Senesie said:
“The airport is a New Brand Airport constructed in a different location in Lungi from scratch. The entrance to the new airport is from the Port Loko Road away from where the old one is. The newly constructed airport will host up to ten (10) planes at every given point in time with a capacity of 50,000 passengers monthly compared to 10,000 monthly using the old airport. The reason for such massive construction is to make Sierra Leone a hub for international travels in the sub region.
I will not go into the economic benefits of this national development. You think about it. But I challenge anyone to travel to Ghana and Senegal for example and come back and tell your story in terms of taste and facilities. For now, the new airport is going to be the best in the sub region. This is a national pride.
The New Airport is a smart city airport commonly known as a “Green Airport” (solar energy) that supports terminal buildings and runway. The new airport now provides cargo shell that meets international standards that was never there. In addition to that, there is a duty free with wide range of goods order that just cigarette and Drinks that will be functional 24/7. A new Tower with an elevator constructed with a diamond at the top, symbolising one of our treasures as a nation. A recreational centre adjacent to the new airport to attract tourism adds to the ambience of this new facility.
A five-star hotel is going to be part of this new creation. A new runway constructed that accommodates any flight irrespective of size or volume. What else do we want to prove that this is a new Airport?
The question we should be asking now is what do we do with the old airport? As a government, we are still discussing various possibilities including using the old airport as a military air force wing that would accommodate private planes also.
We are now thinking that it is time to develop our military air force. Similarly, we are also thinking of bidding to use the old facility as the ECOWAS aircraft maintenance site. The benefit of this to Sierra Leoneans again goes beyond this world.
Sierra Leoneans deserve the best and that include taste in terms of our national development.
As a government, when we say we were going to open up Lungi, we were mocked. When we say we are going to do the Lungi bridge, we have reason for that and the Lungi bridge is going to be built. The triggers to the construction of the Lungi Bridge include the new airport that is now near completion. Next is the New Financial City for Sierra Leone in the same location. We have already concluded surveys and beacons fixed on the ground.
The new financial city will provide for administrative facilities, industries, financial institutions, hotels, housing and so on. This will increase the traffic flow to Lungi and towing the bridge will bring about quick returns on investment on the bridge. So as a government we are not guessing.
A New City for Sierra Leone is on the horizon. Systematically, we are developing Sierra Leone in the mist of world economic crisis in a sustainable way.
So, politicising our national development is a bad dream. Let us provide better alternatives to current national policy drive if there are any on the same subject matter.”
But the minister of lands’ article above has opened a new debate about honesty and transparency. There are many who are saying that the Bio government should have come out clean and inform the people of Sierra Leone that it is going to construct a new airport. This is more important after if had rubbished the former government’s proposal for a new airport during the 2018 elections campaign, which the SLPP then went on to win.
Replying to the minister of lands article, this is what one commentator who wishes to remain anonymous sent to the Sierra Leone Telegraph:
There are some inaccuracies in the minister’s narrative to make it look better. First, it’s not a new Airport. The same old runway which width is increased and resurface remains the only runway at the facility. There’s a new and modernized Terminal, I can’t vouch for its capacity and the airside capacity which is very important.
There are key infrastructure in an airport that’s very critical to its operations and which is hidden to the public. They are the DVOR, the instrument Landing Systems and Ground-to-air communications equipment. Without them no large/modern aircraft will land at Lungi. These are very expensive and are existing or old.
The Doppler Vor Omni directional range (DVOR) serves as the beacon of the airport which send signals up to 60,000ft above mean sea level for pilots to identify the location of the Airport. The former administration/Govt. through a loan/Grant from the World Bank installed them.
Despite the fact that some new facilities such as modernize terminal with ancillary pedestrian bridges, new control tower, new VIP Lounge and a taxiway are added on, the facilities falls short to qualify Lungi as a new Airport.
You should understand the desperation of the Minister to market their efforts and win the hearts of electorates in an election year amidst a devastating economic environment. In fact, I understand that the old communications equipment in the old Tower will be transferred to the new Tower – another very critical and expensive equipment required for Airport operations.
The Minister’s piece obviously lacks the technical credence to call the new facilities at Lungi a brand new Airport.
Additionally, it’s erroneous for the Minister to say there wasn’t an existing cargo terminal. Sky Handling partners the Ground Handling Concessionaire installed a new cargo terminal at Lungi in 2015 that’s still exist. A better convincing vibe from the Minister could have been the construction of a new Terminal at Lungi as the case with Terminal 2 at Kotoka Airport in Accra, Ghana.
One needs to understand aviation business fundamentals to understand how Airports operates as a hub. Firstly, Lungi doesn’t have any Airline that uses its facilities as a base and the mention of Turkish Airlines using Lungi as a hub is an understatement because Turkish Airlines has its major pax uplift from Ouagadougou which makes Ouagadougou more convenient for them than Lungi.
Secondly, the Airport’s layout/ orientation should be such as to accommodate transit gates and ancillary facilities to process transit pax. One needs to confirm if the new terminal has such orientation. Otherwise, there’s still a huge gap to develop Origin-Destination operations of Lungi.
Sierra Leone needs a viable Airline business plan with a fleet of Aircrafts based at Lungi to make it a hub. Like Kenya Airways in Nairobi, Asky in Togo etc.
By and large the Aviation credentials of Sierra Leone still needs a huge technical boost as the regulatory authority (SLCAA) still needs huge technical assistance to improve on it mandates – all of which are ingredients to a viable hub operations at Freetown international Airport.
Meanwhile, staff at the airport are uncertain about their future, now that Summa has taken over management of the airport. Staff received letters terminating their contract of employment 24 hours before Summa took over management of the airport. Watch here:
Distraction is one of the 99 tactics of the destructive APC party. In their little mindset, they can even argue that the NEW two way Bai Koblo bridge which replaced the one lane Robere bridge built by President “Talk and Do” Bio who has been awarded the 2022 African of the year, was also renovated and still the same bridge.
Some fickle minded supporters of the APC were even questioning the structural integrity of NEW Mange bridge which replaced the collapsed bridge under their leadership but did nothing to restore it. I will advise all the distractors that that Guinea and Liberia airports are available options.
Leo Africanus, you will have to forgive Bio and his team, they’re a pathetic lot. Try to find out whether they know the meaning of “refurbish “. To add to their incoherent thinking, they childishly want to use the same airport as a military base. This means that if the country is ever into a conflict with another country with a rudimentary Air Force we shall end up going to Liberia or Guinea to do any flying because Lungi will be bombed to extinction. The whole Bio Administration is in a drunken stupor. In five months let us bring in NGC for a fresh start and a new formula, APC are just as bad. Both APC and SLPP cannot be trusted in broad daylight let alone in the dark .
Now, if St Edwards School or Bo School decides to build a new block, make another entrance and build a football field and a new administrative building. Is it a new School or has the old school been refurbished?
Numerous airports have two or more terminals, what is the big deal? The notion that the old runway can be used for the air wing,— ahem ahem,of the Sierra Leone boy scouts, apologies, I meant Sierra Leone Army shows these people are on something else. Why would you site a military base next to a civilian airport?
Personally, I believe several factors needs to be look at in addressing the question of whether or not the construction of a new terminal building, along with upgrades on the existing runway at Lungi airport, constitutes to a ‘ brand new airport’ as being purported by the minister.
For a start, prior to the upgrades, there is no denial that Lungi has a control tower, a runway strip, a terminal building, and a host of other basic components that qualifies it as an international airpot. Anyone who have fly a few places can attest that most international airports these days have multiple terminal buildings and control towers, so i am not really sure why the addition of such at Lungi can now be considered a ‘ brand new’ airpot.
The last time i checked, the location and address remains the same. Building additional houses inside my current compound does not gives me a new address or translates to me having a new compound, i simply just added more value to my compound.
Now while the new terminal building and upgrades are welcoming by many patriotic citizens, the issue of ease of access remains. In catching our 8:20PM return flight last week after being in the country for 6 weeks, myself and daughter had to leave the house at 1:00PM to catch the 2PM ferry, since we needed to cross with the vehicle. That is 7hrs time wasted that could be invested somewhere if the airport was 30-45min drive inland.
We definitely need airports , roads , bridges that connects Freetown to Lungi International airport , electricity ,hotels , hospitals ,educational facilities that are up to standards , modern deep-water seaports , container terminals ,railroads that crisscrosses the country for example, from Pujehun District all the way to rice producing areas of Falaba , Kambia and Portlocko Districts.If we have a government and personnel both in the private and public sectors that are willing and ready to work in collaboration, there is nothing that will stands in the way of our country’s national aspirational goals .As a nation we can’t attempt to do everything in one go . A five year plan for any of the above listed projects will be a good start .least we forget the existence of the State is for ever .So if you are in power try and do the right thing for the country .First things first .The elected representatives of the people of Sierra Leone should stick to their party’s manifesto promises and work towards delivering those promises they made to the people. Bio promises is similar to an old Russian folk story .”A man promised the Emir he will teach his donkey how to speak in his native language .The Emire asked how long is that going to take before the donkey master the language .The man said 20years!” The Emire who was in his advanced age said or well I will be dead or the donkey will be dead by the time you accomplished that feat .And that is exactly the sort of promises we got from the one directionless Bio government .He recognized corruption is the root causes of all the economic ills that have hampered growth in our country , and promised to root it out ,yet under his watch corruption is so rampant is like on steroids .It will take our country decades to recover from the economic mismanagement he spearhead.The 1980s was designated by the World Bank and IMF as the lost decades for African countries .Due to high level of corruption and military dictatorships and brutal civil wars raging across the continent .Sierra leone entered the decades of the 1990s doubling down on that lost 80s decade by engaging in a brutal and senseless civil war that left thousands of people dead and maimed in a conflict that set out to destroy the very fabric of Sierra Leonean society. Despite that , our country emerged from that conflict determine to forge ahead with a renewed sense of nationhood and optimism .The 2000s were supposed to be a new beginnings after the truth and reconciliation programes co -sponsored by our international partners . The fact that former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, was tried and convicted for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone , to some of us that was the icing on the cake .I wish he rot in hell .One would have thought the political leadership of the country and it’s people have learned a valuable lessons from our recent past .But what we got is Bio and some of his henchmen that are hell bent on dragging our country back to the abyss for which none of us voted for .Bottom line is the fact we are celebrating the new Airport shows how much our bar of expectation from this government is placed so low .This sort of developments should be the norm not the exception .We should have spanking new airports and railway hubs in Bo , Kono , Kenema , Kailahun , Makeni , Kabala , Sherbro Island , Kambia , Portlocko and many other towns and villages across the country ,if only our country is corrupt free .So everyone will share in the national cake .How many poor Sierra Leonean which is the majority of the population will afford a plane ticket?
Everything about this SLPP government is shrouded in complications, half truths and ignorance. Turad Senessie , for example, calls himself minister of lands – what business does he have in aviation? Does he even know what a displaced threshold is, or what code 7600 on a transponder indicates? He implies that what has been done to Lungi Airport ranks it above Kotoka Airport in Ghana. He needs to do more research since his PhD has not helped him here. According to the world body responsible for such matters, Kotoka Airport is ranked as one of the best in the world with a four-star rating, Sierra Leone does not even feature in the rankings, while Murtala Mohammad Airport in Nigeria is described as “chaotic and dysfunctional”. Still the Airport carries a two-star rating, better than Sierra Leone .
No doubt Lungi Airport has undergone a face uplift, but that does not qualify it as a brand new airport. Nigeria did the same thing but it’s still poorly ranked. Turad Senessie, please step aside to allow the minister of Transport and Aviation to do his job, or does he prefer to remain in the shadows ? More to come.
Getting a new airport or terminal whatever the case may be is not a bad thing the old airport is tired and falls short of what you expect in an international airport. What we should be concerned about is the location firstly as Lungi is not easily accessed due to the challenges of crossing using ferry’s that are not reliable or passenger speed boats that are way too expensive for a 30 min journey.
There are not many airports with characteristics like ours and explains why in most countries you will find airports that are easily accessed by road. It makes ours uncompetitive in this age where time is of the essence for travellers.
Another concern is that we are not made fully aware about the terms and conditions of the BOT contract including cost implication for travellers at the moment there is a security fee of $25 each way increasing the cost on top of other travelling expenses.
The decision to get a new terminal/airport was a political one that does not make business sense. A bridge to access Lungi will be ideal but at what cost and when you may ask.
To me the attempt by someone to debunk the Minister’s account is tauntamount to sour grape reaction. I have been to the new facility and by all objective standards, it can qualify for the label “NEW AIRPORT”. New entrance, new car park, new terminal, new cargo building, new gadgets to display presenters load, conveyor staircase and loads of other items/services completely new in SL. If these are not novelties, I will wonder what they really are.