By John Baimba Sesay-China
I watched SLBC TV on Tuesday, 9th April and heard the Lands Minister, Hon. Musa Tarawallie talk about plans by government to transform Lungi into Sierra Leone’s commercial city. This is encouraging news, given its strategic location especially from the viewpoint of trade.
Sierra Leone’s development growth has been reflective in a range of areas. From infrastructure to energy generation and distribution, to the fight against corruption and image branding, amongst others, we have continued to score the greatest percentage. This is also the case in the areas of promoting democratic credentials which today larged helped in us gaining international recognition for our successes and more support to our development. Take for instance, the area of air transport; we recently got encouraging news in that late last year, government signed 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 infrastructural support projects to Sierra Leone from the Chinese government. This new airport in the mainland, when constructed, will help in fostering trade and in expanding our city.
The first point of a nation’s ability to encourage more direct foreign investment has to do with the outlook of its airport. An airport has a lot to do in stimulating economic growth and in pushing a nation’s prosperity. To this end, Sierra Leone is no exception.2007 saw an air travelling system that was in a bad and unacceptable shape in Sierra Leone; the international airport was in a declining state with sub-standard facilities. The rebranding drive of the country was introduced and was led by President Koroma. This was reflected in giving a facelift to the airport. Then, government started pursuing the urgent need to rehabilitate the airport with an aim to meet international standards. So, by 2010, various works were initiated including the overlaying of the runway, widening of the taxi way and relocation of ground lighting system. In line with international best practice, we saw the procurement and installation of new scanning equipments 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. This will in the future, subsequently lead to an increase in business opportunities for the airlines and also an encouraging growth in export trade, since airlines that have been refusing to pick up cargos from the airport, if any, due to the absence of scanning facilities, would now be able to do such.
There also has been the rehabilitation, modernization and expansion of the Presidential Lounge, all part of the rebranding efforts of government. We also today have a 95% completion in the modernization and expansion of the terminal building. This is expected to increase the terminal building’s operation capacity by 100%, with an aim to addressing congestion and improving security, and ensuring comfort 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, aimed at highlighting the efficiency, effectiveness and safe transfer of passengers to/from airport to Freetown. This as a matter of fact will help in discontinuing the system the system wherein, domestic helicopters operate with international flights on the same apron which is against international best practice. Today, we have seen an almost 100% improvement in the complete replacement and upgrading of Navigational Aid and Communications Equipment at the airport aimed at enhancing airport’s profile on safety and facilitation of aircraft operations.
But there are a number of challenges the airport is faced with. Of primary concern is that of encroachment of lands belonging to the airport, both at Lungi and Hastings. This is a serio0us challenge they may be faced with. Given government’s determination to always move in line with international best practice, there is the need for support the airport management. This is where the lands ministry will come in and provide the leadership for such support. There still exist a number of opportunities that the airport management will surely utilize all in a bid to support the prosperity drive, being led by the President. Government’s continued support to the growth of the airport; from the framework of oversight functions by 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 to take care of staff at Hastings Airport which has not only been inactive but has been leading to a drain in revenue for the airport. There is a commitment to construct a cargo complex at the airport by the Grand Handing Company and this, when completed, will surely help stimulate growth in export and import and also foster the needed transformation of the airport to a regional hub for cargo transshipment, which subsequently will enhance economic growth at the country level.
It is in line with these given opportunities that the nation will continue to commend the airport management for the tremendous progress they have made in recent time and in also encouraging them to continue with efforts at expanding the upgrading of the profile and security capacity that will subsequently lead to more airlines into the country. One cannot also over state the need for them 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 to also decentralize their 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, all in a bid to support the agenda for prosperity, Sierra Leone’s blueprint for national development.
With this, there is every need to commend the general leadership role that President Koroma has always provided in ensuring the airport moves in line with global trend and be able to contribute to stimulating economic growth for national development. Kudus too to John Sesay, General Manager SLAA