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Sierra Leone signals million-dollar airport expansion drive
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|Sierra Leone signals million-dollar airport expansion drive by Kenyans247(1): Sat 14, November, 2020 08:19am|
The Sierra Leone government is moving ahead with a plan to expand its only international airport, laying to rest any hope of realising a contentious Chinese supported airport project.
President Julius Maada Bio on Thursday officially commissioned construction work for a new terminal at the Freetown International Airport (FNA). The project, which costs $270 million (about Sh29 billion), is designed to elevate the airport to international standards, officials say.
It currently accommodates a maximum of 300,000 passengers a year. The government projects that when it is completed, it will accommodate one million passengers a year.
While government officials say this will bring in more revenue, the significant aspect of it is that it lays to permanent rest the idea of constructing a new airport, which has divided the country.
FNA is located outside Freetown, linked to the capital city by a river estuary. There is an alternative route by land, but it’s a longer journey. The sea route involves largely unreliable ferry rides and a few expensive luxury boat rides.
Bio’s predecessor, Ernest Bai Koroma’s administration had blamed the difficulty associated with traveling between Lungi and Freetown for the poor performance of the tourism sector. But Koroma’s plan to construct a new airport on the mainland was halted by the defeat of his party in the 2018 presidential elections.
The new airport was to have been constructed in a town called Mamamah, 40 km outside Freetown. Koroma’s APC had already secured a Chinese loan, amidst protests by the then opposition SLPP and international lenders like the World Bank and IMF.
Immediately after taking office in April 2018, Bio announced the cancellation of the deal which would have cost the country US$300 million.
Bio said on Thursday that it didn’t make any sense to invest that kind of money in a new airport when just part of it could be used to upgrade the existing airport.
“We didn’t see sense in that and we didn’t want to take a loan …” the President said at a ceremony at the airport, where the contract was officially signed with the contractor.
The Russia-based Summa Group of Companies is constructing the terminal, under a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) arrangement. The government hasn’t yet provided any details on the timeframe of the agreement. But construction work is scheduled to last for 24 months, according to a representative of the contractor.
The airport terminal is the first in a series of infrastructural projects earmarked by the government. Another major project linked to the airport, a bridge linking Freetown
to Lungi, is expected to be launched before the end of this month, according to local media reports.
The bridge is Bio’s idea of solving the transportation problems associated with the airport. But his critics have questioned the rationale behind building a bridge with foreign money, after cancelling another project (new airport) that was to have come from another foreign investor.
But the government said the bridge will cost less than the airport would, and officials add that the deal for the bridge would cost the country nothing, unlike the Chinese airport deal that was to be a loan.
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