By Amodu Bangura in Freetown
President Julius Maada Bio has officially unveiled the new Freetown International Airport Terminal and Facility at a ceremony attended by the private sector, development partners and the diplomatic community in the country.
The $270 million terminal has the capacity for over one million passengers annually and five times the airport’s current capacity, constructed through a build, operate and transfer agreement between the government and the global construction company, Summa Group of Companies from Turkey.
“Today is a great day. Today is a new day. I want to start by commending the SUMMA Group of companies for delivering on their commitment. 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 proven 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,” he said.
He added that they had also demonstrated that Sierra Leone was a credible and conducive destination for foreign direct investment and assured the private sector in Turkey that the country was open to more Turkish investments.
“The International Airport at Lungi that we 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, air aprons were in good condition but needed repairs. We were at 20% compliance with ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organisation] requirements. Our airport levies were about the highest in the subregion. That was the legacy of the APC Government.
“Our 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 recalled.
President Bio observed that he was aware that they were in a political season but noted that there was the need to provide context by comparing the new airport to the Mamamah International Airport which did not happen.
“First, we are not moving the airport from Lungi to Mamamah. We did not move the airport to the southeast as some bad politicians would let you believe. We believe that Lungi and Port Loko deserve to still be the international gateway of Sierra Leone.
“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. We do not believe that Sierra Leone should be indebted with hundreds of millions of dollars of debt with interest just to build an airport.
“This airport is bigger and modern and it has been built with zero cents in debt. It is Build Operate and Transfer. The Turkish people have used their own money to build this brand-new terminal and new facilities. We owe them nothing. After operating the airport for some years, they will give us the airport for free,” he clarified.
The President also disclosed that even in the midst of COVID-19, Sierra Leone was the only country in entire West Africa where one company had invested such a huge sum of money in an infrastructural project and completed it in record time, adding that the funding model of BOT was one of the ways countries like the UK, US, Germany, France and had built larger infrastructural projects.
“Since 1967 when the Lungi international airport runway was expanded, this is the first time in the history of this country that a completely new international airport terminal has been constructed. No Government has ever done such massive infrastructural development in this sector.
“We have undertaken this investment because we believe that it promotes job creation, boosts new sectors of growth – tourism, supports international trade, and attracts new investment streams in other sectors,” he said.
Vice President for Summa Group of Companies, Mr Fatih Bora, thanked the government and people of Sierra Leone for the confidence they reposed them to operate in the country despite the global economic and COVID-19 challenges on the aviation industry.
“Most people were skeptical about the actualisation of this project. Frankly, only a few people believed in us, nonetheless, we were able to finalise it in record time and earlier than scheduled, with high quality that we believed you will appreciate.
“This investment represents the biggest Turkish private investment in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, the Freetown International Airport is the most modern airport intersection in the region. It is the most environmentally friendly airport in the region, with solar power and battery technology, and it is going to be the best passenger-friendly airport.
“This kind of landmark project would not have been achieved without the visionary leadership of His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio. Thank you for giving us the opportunity and thank you for your leadership. Thanks, also, to Her Excellency the First Lady for your trust and confidence,” he said.