By M.B. Jalloh, Press Attaché, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States
Sierra Leone’s Minister of Transport and Aviation, Honourable Leonard Balogun Koroma has said that the suspension of seven airlines to Sierra Leone “is already disrupting cross border and regional trade.”
He made the remarks during a recent telephone interview from neighbouring Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where he signed Air Services Agreements with his UAE counterpart, Mohamed Al Mansour. “The suspension has caused the reduction of supply of essential commodities and its attendant impact on prices and loss of business incomes.”
According to the Minister, prior to the outbreak of the Ebola virus from neighbouring Guinea in May this year, there were nine airlines flying to the Lungi International Airport, but seven of them suspended their operations; British Airways, Asky, Air Ivoire, Arik Air, Gambia Bird, Kenya Airways and Air France.
“Only two airlines – Brussels and Royal Air Maroc – did not suspend their operations and I thank them for what they have done for us”, Koroma tells me on the phone. The indefatigable and down-to-earth Minister disclosed that he had made a thank-you visit to Morocco where he met with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Royal Air Maroc and appealed to the top management to continue to stay with Sierra Leone.
“I also met with the top management of Air Brussels and expressed the same sentiment at this trying time in the history of our country”, he adds. The Ebola virus may have been exported to other countries like the United States of America and Spain from Ebola affected countries in West Africa, the Minister was proud of Sierra Leone as an exception.
“As I am talking to you now, we have not exported any single case of Ebola outside the country and this is commendable”, he points out. The reason, he continues, is because the Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority (SLCAA) under the supervision of the Ministry of Transport and Aviation has mounted adequate security and precautionary measures around the Lungi International Airport to forestall any outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease in those environs.
The good thing is that the Aviation Minister has been shuttling back and forth persuading the airlines that have temporarily suspended their operations in Freetown to resume their operation and he seems to have succeeded in that direction. He disclosed that on 26th October, 2014, Air Ivoire and Kenya Airways asked his Ministry to keep their schedules open; so too have the others made the same request.
During his recent visit abroad, Balogun Koroma held successful meetings with the British Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport for the British Airways to resume its operations in Freetown, as well as the top management of Air France. “After the outbreak of the Ebola disease, we expect that Emirates Airlines will consider the possibility of flying to Freetown”, the Minister says.
Koroma recently signed an Air Services Agreement with Air France in Paris. The most recent one is the aforementioned Air Services Agreement with the United Arab Emirates which he signed on Thursday, 23rd October, 2014 at the Etisalat Building in Dubai. Under the agreement, they agreed that any number of designated airlines of both parties will have the right to perform scheduled air services.
The UAE designated Etihad Airways, Emirates Air and Fly Dubai as UAE’s national airlines under the agreement. Sierra Leone will designate its airlines in due course. The agreement allows unrestricted frequencies, capacity and types of aircraft, whether owned or leased, to be operated by the designated airlines of each country in any type of service (passenger or cargo) on the routes between the UAE and Sierra Leone.
“As developing country, I see the future of speedy and efficient travel in the world through aviation in terms of domestic, regional, beyond the sub-region and international flights thus ensuring connectivity which is the future of globalization,” the Minister expresses optimism.
Hear him again: “We have nothing to lose; we have to attract more investors, tourists and I’ll continue to sign these agreements whenever the opportunity arises”.
The Honourable Minister has also signed Air Services Agreements with the People’s Republic of China and will be signing another one in December with Qatar Airlines. Koroma has within a very short time of his tenure signed several Air Services Agreements with several countries well-grounded in air transportation in a bid to open up Sierra Leone to the global village. “In future, I’ll sign another agreement with the Turkish Airlines”, the Minister discloses.
Reacting to the Minister’s recent moves, a Sierra Leonean student at the Qatar Aeronautical College in Doha, Mustapha Bongay said Hon. Balogun Koroma deserves commendation for shuttling the world and prevailing on Airlines that have suspended their operation in the country to resume their operations so that Sierra Leone will not be isolated from the rest of the world.
His signing of Air Services Agreements with countries whose airlines have never touched the tarmac of the Lungi International Airport, Bongay added, is an indication of opening the country to the outside world. “This is the kind of initiative and dynamism Sierra Leoneans expect from their Ministers and other decision makers in Government,” the final year student concluded.