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: