New Freetown International Airport Now Operates as an ICAO Certified Airport

By Amin Kef (Ranger)

During an auspicious and highly publicized event that took place on the 3rd March, 2023 at Kaffu Bullom Chiefdom, Lungi to be precise, within the Port Loko District, attracting many people from different walks of life, His Excellency, President Dr Julius Maada Bio officially commissioned the brand new Freetown International Airport which was constructed by Summa Group of Turkey on a Build Operate Transfer basis.

The new international airport will replace the old Lungi International Airport which was built by the British Colonial masters in 1945 during the Second World War.

Worthy of note is that President Bio drew wide commendations for taking the bold initiative to approve the construction of a modern airport at Lungi with state of the art facilities and technology.

By meeting the ICAO – International Civil Aviation Organization standards and by complying with Annex 14 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, 1947, the new airport has been certified.

It must be underscored that previously some flights refused to fly to Sierra Leone because the airport was not certified and they couldn’t risk the chance of flying to a country that is not covered by insurance.  The Freetown International Airport is now been operated as an ICAO certified airport.

In his address during the programme, President Bio told the audience that the day is a great and a new one further commending the SUMMA Group of companies for delivering on their commitment.

He intimated how they promised two years ago further maintaining that in spite of the COVID-19 outbreak and the global economic headwinds and downturns, they worked hard and two years on, they have delivered.

“You have proved yet again that “talk and do” is not mere talk,” he figuratively  stated underscoring that it is a mindset; it is an attitude and it is about work ethic — working hard and making good on promises, and delivering outstanding outcomes, once more thanking them for demonstrating the “talk and do” attitude.

The President expressed gratitude for demonstrating that Sierra Leone is a credible and conducive destination for foreign direct investments adding that the private sector in Turkey can be assured that Sierra Leone is open to more Turkish investments.

He extended thanks to the Office of Presidential Infrastructure Initiatives, the Ministers of Transportation; the entire leadership, and all stakeholders in the transportation sector including the Sierra Leone Airport Authority and the Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority, for their dedication in ensuring that the event is happening.

President Bio stated that the International airport at Lungi that they inherited was a cramped-up, dome-like structure with unmaintained, barely-functional and very uncomfortable facilities.

He lamented that the experiences at the arrival and departure concourses, the luggage carousel, the airport foyers and exits were a far cry from what passengers would ever experience at modern airports all over the world.

According to him, passenger volumes hovered around a low 200,000 saying runways, taxi ways, air aprons were in good condition but needed repairs bemoaning that the country was at 20% compliance with ICAO requirements.

He said the airport levies were about the highest in the sub-region underpinning that such was the legacy of the APC Government.

The President informed that they have since carried out repairs and increased the safety and compliance rating of the airport divulging how  they procured a new fire engine, navigational aids, runway lighting, and invested in emergency services maintaining that safety and other international ratings of the airport improved dramatically over the last four and half years.

He said the experience of flying into Lungi has been better and more comfortable for passengers saying in spite of COVID-19, passengers volumes have climbed steadily revealing that more air carriers have added Sierra Leone to their list of destinations stressing that was not merely enough for them.

The President said the New Direction manifesto had established a clear view for working within a regional vision to develop “a sound and seamless regional air transport system that is safe, reliable, efficient, affordable, well connected within West Africa and integrated within the global network.”

He said if their goal was to enhance global civil aviation safety, improve Sierra Leone’s air links within the global transportation network, improve passenger safety and comfort, and create an economically viable and ultramodern international airport that would become an economic growth node, then they had to take a new direction.

President Bio informed that Mamamah was a debt of $350 million USD and a debt with interest adding how International financial institutions and their partners had warned against such huge debt.

He said even before they dug a single hole at Mamamah, the APC had already spent millions of dollars on questionable land acquisition maintaining that it was going to involve forcible destroying a village and moving people saying that an environmental studies contract was awarded to one company that even the EPA did not have much input on the studies adding that only tentative meteorological studies were done.

“An international airport is not built on the basis of tentative meteorological studies,” the President stated disclosing that the APC Government was going to demolish an entire village and all its 23 houses stressing how no firm plans were made for their suitable relocation and for over five years, nothing was done saying road works and civil works to the site should have started to site that was never even started maintaining that they started all the questionable negotiations way back in 2013 and five  years later they were still negotiating how many million dollars in debt they would leave Sierra Leone in.

President Bio said Mamamah is about 60Km from Freetown whilst Lungi is about 15Km from Freetown by sea.

He said the airspace of Lungi International airport and the new Mamamah airport is overlapping, the distance between the two airports is 42Km – which means that the airport would not have met the requirement of 20Km procedure control arguing how therefore there was going to be an airspace conflict so Lungi had to be shut down.

The President told the audience that the international airport was going to move from Lungi informing that Lungi would have become a ghost town with great job losses for young people.

He said there was no provision for radar control at Mamamah pointing out that the airport was going to be smaller adding that there would have been no jetways so people still had to walk or be bussed across the apron to the terminal building saying Phase I work for Mamamah Airport was going to be completed in 4 years and that was not going to even include a VIP or Presidential terminal.

According to him, Electricity was to be supplied by dirty diesel generators costing millions of dollars and the grid expansion to the proposed airport was not even funded.

President Bio stated that he knows it is now a political season and challenged all to compare Mamamah with what they have done.

He said first they are not moving the airport from Lungi to Mamamah. “We did not move the airport to the South-East as some bad politicians would let you believe,” he said adding how they believe that Lungi and Port Loko deserve to still be the international gateway of Sierra Leone.

The President said they do not believe that Sierra Leone should be indebted with hundreds of millions of dollars of debt with interest just to build an airport.

He said the airport is bigger and more modern and it has been built with zero cents in debt on a Build, Operate and Transfer basis informing how the Turkish people used their own money to build the brand new terminal and new facilities not owing them nothing saying after operating the airport for some years, they will give the airport to the country for free.

Even in the midst of COVID-19, the President said, Sierra Leone is the only country in the entire West Africa that one company invested such a huge sum of money in an infrastructural project and completed it in record time.

He said the funding model – BOT – is one way which even countries like the UK, US, Germany, France etc used to build large infrastructural projects.

President Julius Maada Bio told the audience that since 1967 when the Lungi International airport runway was expanded, it is the first time in the history of this country that a completely new international airport terminal has been constructed maintaining that no Government has ever done such massive infrastructural development in that sector.

He said they undertook that investment because they believe that it promotes job creation, boosts new sectors of growth (tourism), supports international trade, and attracts new investment streams in other sectors.

The President said additional investments in international standard hotels, convention centres, and more are being considered for the general airport area and that can only make the airport even more attractive to new carriers, tourists, and businesses.

He expressed expectation that their friends, the SUMMA Group of companies will keenly consider the local content laws in employing and training locals as well as giving opportunities to local businesses.

“We still believe and will work towards constructing the Lungi bridge,” he said but added that in the meantime they have reconstructed and modernized Tagrin Ferry terminal and brought in ferries.

He said the Resident Minister, Northwest has told everyone what they have done in Port Loko District saying they have done more in all areas of infrastructure, education, healthcare, agriculture, and created more jobs in mining, the service industry, construction here in Port Loko than any Government has ever done.

He challenged bad politicians to present their own records in Port Loko concluding that the country now has an ultramodern airport terminal that is three times larger than the existing terminal and has brand new facilities that will accommodate up to a million passengers a year.

The President said more carriers, it is hoped, can take advantage of Sierra Leone’s strategic location to make it a major Transit hub in the sub region particularly for air passenger traffic to South America and Europe.

“We now have on offer a safer, modern, and very comfortable airport,” he stated saying he is therefore very proud to commission the new Freetown International Airport which he termed as a sustainable and modern airport that will generate economic growth and national development.

On his part, the Minister of Transport and Aviation, Kabineh Kallon, stated that the new airport would open up Sierra Leone to the world, adding that the newly constructed airport was an indication that the country was moving in the right direction.


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