By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma

Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio has said he is very proud to commission the new Freetown International Airport terminal and facilities referring to the new edifice as a sustainable and modern one that will generate economic growth and national development in the country.

The new airport is built under the build operate and transfer project by the Turkish-based SUMMA Group which will be run for 25 years and handed over to the Sierra Leon government.

Speaking at the opening and commissioning of the new Airport yesterday, in Lungi, PortLoko District, Julius Maada Bio said that the commissioning of the airport is a great day adding a new day whilst commending the SUMMA Group of companies for delivering on their commitment to deliver in two years.

‘’They promised two years; in spite of COVID and the global economic headwinds and downturns, they worked hard; today, two years on, they have delivered. You have proved yet again that “talk and do” is not mere talk. It is a mindset; it is an attitude. It is about work ethic — working hard and making good on promises, and delivering outstanding outcomes. Thank you for demonstrating the “talk and do” attitude,’’ Bio said.

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

‘’I want to also thank 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 this day is happening. Thank you,’’ President Julius Maada Bio added.

The president further added that his government’s 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.”

‘’ If our goal was to enhance our 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 we had to take a new direction,’’

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

‘’Passenger volumes hovered around a low 200,000. Runways, taxiways, and air aprons were in good condition but needed repairs. We were at 20% compliance with ICAO requirements. Our airport levies were about the highest in the sub-region. That was the legacy of the APC Government. We have since carried out repairs and increased the safety and compliance rating of the airport. We procured a new fire engine, navigational aids, and runway lighting, and invested in emergency services. Safety and other international ratings of the airport improved dramatically over the last four and half years,’’ Bio stressed, adding the experience of flying into Lungi has been better and more comfortable for passengers.

The first gentleman said that in spite of COVID-19, passengers volumes have climbed steadily adding that more air carriers have added Sierra Leone to their list of destinations but said that was not merely enough for the country .

 ‘’Mamamah was a debt of $350 million USD. That was debt with interest. International financial institutions and our partners had warned against such huge debt. Even before they dug a single hole at Mamamah, the APC had already spent millions of dollars. on questionable land acquisition; it was going to involve forcibly destroying a village and moving people; an environmental studies contract was awarded to one company that even the EPA did not have much input on the studies; only tentative meteorological studies were done. An international airport is not built on the basis of tentative meteorological studies; they were going to demolish an entire village and all its 23 houses,’’ President Bio lamented. 

Resident Minister North-west and presidential spokesman Alhaji Alpha Kanu praised the president for fulfilling his promises to citizens saying the new airport was a blessing that they thought that has been taken away from them as the people of Port Loko.

‘’I feel on top of the world, I thought this was a blessing that we thought had been taken away from us by promises. And here at Kaffu Bullom we are really happy that we have a president like president Julius Maada Bio who does the things that makes his people’s lives better. So I tell you there is no better time to be a sierra Leonean than now,’’

On his part, Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella said the new airport is a huge development for Sierra Leone which he said was built on time with a BOT model adding it is a significant development for the people of Lungi and the country at large.

‘’This is the kind of investment we want to come in, we want big companies to come in and take a risk and do a structure like this. So, I  believe I am here to support the notion of a public, private partnership that has such a transformative infrastructure. I believe this will have a big benefit. we have already debated that in parliament. Hopefully, it will attract more planes,’’Dr. Yumkella added.  

By Bah

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