Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has awarded Ghanaian civil aviation experts at a ceremony in Ghana for helping restore their airport to a standard that could land sixteen aircraft during an ECOWAS meeting in that country. At a time that the country’s international airport had been shut for close to three times in the year owing to technical problems, the Ghanaian team supported Liberia with spare parts, conveyor belts among others.
Ghana’s support helped Liberia land 19 airplanes without incidence according to the Director General of the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority, Richelieu Williams.
He said, “Four days before President Natanyahu landed [in Liberia] for example, there were no lights on the runway, this was restored before he landed. The president is very happy with the Ghanaian support. Instrument landing systems that most airplanes land on for example had not been calibrated for a while and the team helped us to do that.”
Since 2011, the Liberian government has collaborated with Ghana to restore Liberia’s aviation industry to international standards by sending officials down to improve their operations.
By 2016, Delta Airlines and Air France had resumed operations in that country – an achievement for Liberia’s post conflict aviation sector.
Mr. Williams said, “The resumption of Delta and Air France’s flight services is a sign of the stability of airport security in the aviation sector of Liberia.”
Liberia currently has seven to nine flights at their airport, however they have other chartered and cargo airlines also coming in.
Among notable progress the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority has made is to address 103 out of the 106 deficiencies identified in the ICAO audit.
These included human capital development, removal of Liberia from UN/EU blacklist, signing of Bilateral Air Services Agreement with several countries, the return of the Flight Information Region to Liberia, passage of the Act creating the Liberia Airport Authority, publication of a 900-page document on ICAO regulations as well as deregistering aircraft involved in gun-running and arms-smuggling.
Liberia’s aviation however has to deal with several challenges which the Director General indicates must be devoid of politics.
He said, “In our business there is no place for politics, because there is no place in the sky to land if there are issues. Human resource is one of our biggest challenges and technical support, so far, airlines that visit Liberia are aware of the problems we have and are willing to adjust, for example if we have a lighting problem they come in the day so that they can see and if it’s a navigational problem we make them come in the day too and this is how we have been operating.”
He called on the Liberia government to take bold steps to revamp the human resource at the airport and get more international support.
In 2013, in a Voice of America interview with President Sirleaf admitted the airport workers were not properly trained. She said Air France has requested higher training standards after several incidents, including an employee hitting a plane with a vehicle, which the president said caused half a million dollars in damages.
Mr. Williams said Ghana’s support to Liberia has been unparalleled and called for a deeper relationship. Refurbishment of Liberia’s airport started in 2003 after the civil war ended and some Liberian businessmen say the development at the airport has been at a rather snail pace.