By Amin Kef Sesay
During a well-attended ceremony held at Freetown International Airport, Lungi on the 12 November 2020, the President, Julius Maada Bio launched the commencement of a $270 million work on the new airport terminal project that will accommodate one million passengers per year and provide 2000 direct jobs for Sierra Leoneans as the construction phase goes on.
It is said to be the first time since 1967 when the Lungi International Airport runway was expanded that a completely new international airport terminal will be constructed as a Build, Operate and Transfer project under the supervision of the Office of the Presidential Infrastructure Initiative (OPII).
Welcoming the Government delegation at the proposed site in Lungi, in the North-Western district town of Port Loko, Paramount Chief Bai Shebora Sheba Gbereh III of Kaffu Bullom said his people were overwhelmed with the joy of a major project that would create jobs and improve the lives of his people.
“Your Excellency, three years ago the people of Lungi were devastated by the news of a new airport being planned for Mamamah. We are happy that you have restored that hope and dignity in us. We welcome this gesture and the people of this part of the country are fully in support of your drive to develop Sierra Leone under your New Direction Government,” he assured.
Fatih Bora, Vice President of SUMMA Group, the contractors, said they were honoured and excited to be a part of the transformation of the Freetown International Airport, adding that such development in a country would improve its economy.
He disclosed that the work would be completed in two years, noting that they were a Russian independent group of companies with holdings in port logistics, engineering, construction, telecommunications and oil and gas sectors and had worked in many parts of the world.
Chairman of the programme, and Chairman for OPII, Ing. Dr John Tambi, expressed gratitude to the lead contractor, SUMMA Group, for showing interest in the country and for particularly undertaking the project. He said that the country is witnessing a vivid display of leadership that strives for the good of its people.
While emphasising the point that the project would be of no cost to the Government of Sierra Leone and that they would be working closely with the private sector, Dr Tambi also clarified that the existing terminal and its associated facilities would remain intact and operational.
“This project is the radical transformation of the gateway of Sierra Leone. It will be implemented off mainstream Government’s balance sheet, without taking loans or incurring debt,” he explained.
In his keynote address, before launching the project, President Bio disclosed that in the sub-region, Sierra Leone would be the only country where partners had demonstrated such confidence to invest such money in a major infrastructure project even during COVID-19.
“This also means that Sierra Leone under the New Direction is an attractive investment destination even with the current Corona Virus Pandemic. We are building this brand new airport without leaving the people of Sierra Leone in debt. SUMMA group will bring its own money – US$270 Million.
“They will Design, Build, Operate, and Transfer. The SUMMA Group is already operating other international airports in the ECOWAS region. Therefore, it will not cost the Government anything and it is not a loan. As I have pronounced before, this is how we will build new major infrastructure projects,” he said.
He said that they were building a brand new airport expansion with new passenger, Presidential and VIP terminals with ultramodern equipment and would accommodate at least 8 large aircrafts adding that after its completion Sierra Leone would have had a brand new airport – modern, safe, and a state of the art international airport reflective of the New Direction Government.
“This airport is designed…to enable us to take advantage of our strategic location to make Sierra Leone a major transit hub in the sub-region, particularly for air passenger traffic to South America (recognizing that Sierra Leone has the shortest distance to South America from Africa – about 6hours flying time).
“We have potential to be a major transit point to and from South America to Africa and the rest of Europe. It will also attract major airlines and regional carriers. Sierra Leone will then boast of an airport that meets the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirement for airport certification for an international airport like Lungi. Our airport will be considered less risky and less costly to operate for international airlines. Reduced cost of airline operations will trigger more competition, more carriers, and better service delivery,” he concluded.