Salvaging RIA’s Age-Old Nightmare -Weah-Nominated Technical Team Explores Durable Remedy

Built in 1942 by the United States Government as a strategic “Air Force Base” during World War II, and despite the fact the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Liberia’s Edwin J. Barclay held a lunch there in 1943, Liberia’s biggest airport, Roberts International Airport, has since not met international aviation standards, crippled by neglect and carelessness by successive political administrations. Though it was somewhat an aviation hub in the 1970s and early 1980s in West Africa, Robertsfield as it is informally called, met total its ruins during the civil conflict. It has not regained that minimum prestige despite erratic efforts over the years, including building a mini terminal, as airport continues to be plagued by intrinsic inadequacies that have accumulated into chronic nightmares. This situation, which has been overly hyped in the public discourse recently, is now pushing the George Weah administration to take a more holistic appraisal and sustainable remedy to the RIA woes. The Analyst reports.

The Roberts International Airport (RIA) has been in the news recently not for any good reasons. There have been increased lamentations about its poor customer services, filthy environment, corruption amongst others. Lately, it has come under intense public outrage for consistent power outage, something that coincided with the President’s recent return to the country from abroad.

Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who built an average airport terminal, spew jabs at the administration of RIA, by extension the current government, during a major state funeral when she insinuated that many foreign quests who had intended to attend the funeral could not come “probably because darkness at the airport”.

Perhaps due to both the public outrage about the situation at the RIA and the ridiculing states of the former President might have drawn the attention of the George Manneh Weah administration to step up efforts aimed at remedying the RIA nightmares.

Yesterday, April 4, 2022, a special technical team appointed by Dr. George Manneh toured the facilities of the airport and spoke to the management and staff in the hope of digging out the main plagues belying the RIA quagmire and how sustainable solution can be fashioned.

Follow hours of assessment touring of the facilities and meeting management and staff, the presidential technical team returned to Monrovia and briefed the press about the objectives of their mission and what is in the offing for action.

The team included Minister of States for Presidential, Nathaniel McGill; Finance Minister Samuel Tweah; Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean, Information Minister Ledgerhood Julius Rennie, and the Chairman of the Board of the RIA.

Though the former ruling Unity Party (UP) government was able spent about $55m to recondition the Roberts International Airport, including the construction of a modern terminal, the country’s only international airport is still challenged with several issues ranging from infrastructures to technical inadequacies that the Government of President George Manneh Weah has to solve to make the country’s only international airport rise to the bar of international aviation standards.

The Technical Committee charged with the responsibilities to lead efforts for improving the RIA’s facilitates held a press conference on Monday, April 4, 2022, at the Executive Mansion.

Minister Rennie said the mini-technical team led by Minister of States for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel F. McGill, was mandated by President George Manneh Weah to ascertain information and report to the Liberian leader on problems and challenges preventing the Roberts International Airport from ensuring a swift and smooth operations.

Minister Rennie said President Weah attaches great importance and urgency to situation at the Roberts International Airport (RIA)—something that has prompted the President not only to hold a meeting with the Management of the airport upon returning to the country from Dubai and to constitute a special team to explore solution to the situation.

Minister Rennie’s comments were followed by the Board Chairman of Roberts International Airport (RIA), Musa Shannoh, who said there were more challenges and problems at the RIA more than just the issue of electricity or power failure. He called for concerted actions from government and stakeholders to make the airport more effective and efficient.

Mr. Musa Shannoh noted that since the airport was built, including the construction of a new terminal by the former government of Unity Party, President Weah’s government has inherited a litany of old-age problems at the airport and that the government was making frantic effort to have the situations solved so that the airport serves the greater interest of the people of Liberia and its partners.

The RIA’s Board Chair continued that the government of President Weah was swift and was demonstrating its commitment in resolving the many problems at the airport—problems that date as far back as before, during and after the 15 years of the Liberian civil war.

The RIA Board and management, the Chair said, were committed to helping the government through the committee in resolving those old-age issues. He admitted that the Roberts International Airport (RIA) needs the involvement of every Liberian regardless of their status in the country.

The Deputy Manager for Technical Services of RIA, Madam Paula Fare, also spoke during the press briefing, lamenting that the RIA was operating on a system that is archaic and operational facilitates outmoded, causing the problems and challenges being discussed in the public space.

She said several operational systems and tools, including the navigation system and the apron around the runway used for planes to park after landing, were dysfunctional even under former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government.

She said another problems is the decision switching from the Firestone power supply system of 110 to the new system of electricity supply of 220 volt.  She said the RIA’s management could no longer use the old power system of 110 and has moved to 220 through the changing of the entire power system at the RIA.

She clarified that the way in which power supply system are arranged at the RIA when electricity is off in the terminal the runway can or will be affected as the lights on the runway remain on in providing lighting system to the runway for planes to land.

Finance Minister Samuel Tweah said the situation or the accident that occurred at the RIA is a blessing in disguise because it provides the opportunity to carry out a thorough assessment of the problems and provide sustainable solution to what he termed as “infrastructural problem”.

He said it has provided the opportunity for the government to take a holistic approach in finding solution to those many problems at the RIA.

The RIA navigation system transmitter has been installed at the RIA for over 23 years and Minster Tweah said it would require President Weah’s government about 4.5 million USD, something the government did not budget.

According to Minister Tweah, the airport lacks several workable systems, including the fire equipment as well as trucks among others. He said the government has to work to solve the problem and bring the RIA to standard and said the government wants the RIA to be to march of international standard.

Speaking at the press conference, Liberia’s Justice Minister, Frank Musa Dean assured Liberians and international partners that the RIA is safe for travels in and out of the country and there was no reasons to panic.

The head of the team, Minister of State for presidential Affairs, Nathaniel F. McGill, explained that the newly constructed terminal at the RIA can’t be used for planes to park on accounts that the apron around the runway has never been touch for about 50 years and assured the public that the problems the RIA will be solve in the next five to six months.

The Presidential Affairs Minister clarified that the runway is not risk as it has speculated and that even when lights go off in the terminal the lights on the runway are never affected, promising that government will work with the management of RIA to ensure that everything that is needed including lighting are review to provide good services to the people of Liberia.

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