MONROVIA – The consistent power outage at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) in Schefflien, Margibi County is said to be posing serious threats to the lives of Liberians, including President George Manneh Weah, and other foreign diplomats and citizens coming into the country via the airport.
For some time now, the RIA, headed by its Acting Managing Director Martin Hayes, has been faced with serious operational constraints, making it difficult for the airport to be lighted during the night hours.
On March 28, 2022, President Weah and other government officials were greeted with darkness upon their arrival into the country from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where they had gone to participate in EXPO DUBAI 2020.
On March 29, travellers again were compelled to use the torch of their respective phones to provide light in the terminals at the airport. A video, which went viral on the social media, show the travellers complaining and expressing serious frustration over the “disgraceful” situation while awaiting their respective flights for departure along with their luggage.
Airline authorities and workers have also been protesting the situation by either cancelling or scaling down their flights.
Sometimes ago, Royal Air Maroc was compelled to abort landing at the RIA dark runways. The flight attempted landing several times by using the navigation system, but was not successful.
Eyewitnesses said as the plane was landing, the runway lights went off; forcing the flight to divert to Sierra Leone. The inability of the flight landing at RIA left several passengers who were to board the flight, stranded at the Air Port.
Passengers have forfeited their scheduled meetings and others out of the country, while airlines are constrained to get involve into extra spending due to the inadequate supply of electricity at the airport.
Air France, which recommenced commercial flights to Liberia in 2020, in an official statement announced that it would cease its operation to Monrovia as of April 2022.
On 9th March 2022, Mr. Jean-Marc Pouchol, Air France Vice President for Africa, and Mr Jean-Luc Mevellec, regional Director of West Africa, invited and met with Hon. Samuel A. Wlue, Minister of Transport, Republic of Liberia at Charles De Gaulle Airport, Paris, France to inform about the Air France operations to Liberia.
“Based on the economic performance, the current geopolitical situation and the Air France-KLM’s overall plan to restore its profitability, Air France has decided to suspend its flights to Monrovia, Liberia, as of the end of April 2022. Customers already booked on flights after the end of April, will be informed individually. The customers concerned can change their travel plans or cancel the trip and request a refund. Air France would like to thank the government of Liberia and the airport authorities for their continued support in the operation of this route” Air France stated in the statement issued.
Sources hinted that the airline’s decision was due to the risk the lack of stable electricity supply poses to the lives of its passengers and properties.
The situation has claimed the attention of several Liberians and travellers.
In a comment posted on her official social media page recently, Montserrado County district # 10 Representative aspirant Karisma Pelham Raad termed the consistent darkness at the RIA as “disgraceful and embarrassing”.
Madam Raad is a member of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC)
“The constant darkness situation at our National Airport is actually scaring airlines away due to insecurity. The airport cannot be run on generator alone. This is a waste to the Liberian people”.
She stressed that government should either acquire or install a solar panel system as a “back up support” at the airport.
She said a small hydro dam can also be constructed near the Farmington River to supply the airport, and government should ensure the payment of the US$9m it owes the government of Ivory Coast for the stable supply of electricity.
“Government should try to reach out to Japan to get help for our hydro. They might support us if you get the right team to send to ask for the Japanese government support. Send smart and intelligent people who have the gift of convincing people and can influence their decision no matter how ugly our story is”.
She observed that the current situation at the airport poses threat to Liberia’s security.
“Air France is pulling out, who knows what next? Same way we have scared all investors away from Liberia due to lack of Security, bout Technology wise, human capacity and electricity wise, is the same thing we are now doing with the airlines flying here. Example: we have no system in place to all our border points. Anyone can entire the country and leave via our bordering points-be a criminal, murderer etc”.
Madam Raad stressed the need for the installation of a technology system at all border points like the one at the airport to guarantee the safety and security of the citizenry.
“No one wants to come to a country that has major security issues to invest their money. We are killing our country and economy by ourselves. Hope my little advise will be taken seriously and act upon, as it will bring great results to our country and its people and help by restoring security back to our People”.
For his part, Thomas Blasuwoah observed that the unstable supply of electricity at the airport has prompted major airlines to divert flights to neighboring countries including Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.
According to him the runways at the RIA have been “dark as hell”, forcing passengers to spend extra money to travel from nearby countries back to Liberia.
“Thank God for the safe arrival of our President despite confirmed reports of the runways of our ONLY international airport the RIA been very dark and horrific. But, Mr. President, let me say this for the record; it was good that you experienced the horrible condition at our only airport so to speak as that’s exact what our family members, parents, friends, loved ones and many Liberians experience everyday but when flagged, your able lieutenants assigned as stewards there to ensure lives and properties are safe will take the media to refute claims made my Liberians and our international partners”.
“Though happy that you landed safely, it’s sometimes necessary that these things happen to state actors so that they can see and feel what exactly their citizens go through on the daily basis”.
Blasuwoah called for the “poor lighting system” at the RIA, especially during the night hours, to be treated as a national emergency because, it poses a serious threat to the lives and properties of not only Liberians, but other foreign nationals residing and working in the country.
Celebrating 200 years with dark RIA
“We can’t be celebrating 200 years of existence with: ONLY one (1) international airport which is still not being counted amongst even the top 10 in the region, and is still facing lightening problems of the runways at night”.
Nimene Nagbe states: “What is happening at the Robert International Airport is a national emergency! Common sense and common Idea can avoid all the madness going on at RIA. The airport should not be in darkness especially the runways when clean energy is available. Let’s begin to think out of the box and investing in solar energy”.
What management saying
For his part, the acting Managing Director of the RIA, Mr. Martin Hayes, lamented challenges at the airport.
He named the running of the airport by use of generators as the major challenge of his administration.
“This is an international airport and we have serious challenges when it comes to running this airport. I had to buy two brand new generators. At times, things get bad but what makes you a good leader is how quick you can put things together and make it better for mama Liberia. We have serious challenges when it comes to running the airport. It’s difficult when you run airport on generators. Just two days ago, I had to buy additional two brand new generators and each cost US$47,000 just to keep the airport running,” Mr. Hayes stated when he spoke in an interview with Voice of Liberia Television.
Burning 800 gallons per day
According to him, about 800 gallons of diesel are burned to run the airport just for a day.
He said authorities at the airport are compelled to spend the amount of US$37,000 for the purchase of fuel for the running of the airport for a four-day period.
“We depend on land and handling fees to address some of these challenges, but we have already outsourced the landing to some professional group of people”.
Mr. Hayes added that it is “just by the mercy of God” authorities at the RIA are managing to keep the airport functional.
He pointed out that though the issue of the payment of salary arrears to employees is now in the past, the full operations of the airport by the use of generators remains challenging.
In keeping with the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) under Airport requirements: “No certificate holder may use any airport unless it is adequate for the proposed operation, considering such items as size, surface, obstructions, and lighting”.
“That pilot has determined the wind direction from an illuminated wind direction indicator or local ground communications or, in the case of takeoff, that pilot’s personal observations; and The limits of the area to be used for landing or takeoff are clearly shown – For airplanes, by boundary or runway marker lights; For helicopters, by boundary or runway marker lights or reflective material”.
It emphasized that if the area to be used for takeoff or landing is marked by flare pots or lanterns, their use must be approved by the Administrator.
Despite the aviation regulation, the unstable provision of electricity at the RIA poses security threat to the nation and its people.
It also has the proclivity of immensely contributing to the influx or the ferrying of dangerous narcotic substances into the country by drug dealers and others.
Those trading heroin, cocaine and other harmful substances may capitalize on the situation to transport their goods under the cover of darkness. It could also hinder proper revenue generation as custom officers will not be able to effectively and efficiently perform their tasks and responsibilities in darkness.
Increase in corruption at the RIA through the understating of goods cannot be overruled due to the manner and form in which stable electricity supply at the facility is being downplayed by the government.
If nothing is done urgently by the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led government to address the unstable supply of electricity and dark runways at the RIA, the lives of eminent citizens and others, including foreign diplomats and Ambassadors, and the destruction of properties worth millions of United States dollars remain at stake.
The similar lackadaisical attitude and blind eye being played towards the supply of electricity to households and businesses should not be turned to the situation at the RIA.