CLAIM: The President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, has commissioned a brand New Freetown International Airport in Sierra Leone.
VERDICT: False! President Julius Maada Bio didn’t commission a new airport but rather a new terminal.
The Freetown International Airport has been a trending topic of discussion lately. This is owing to arguments around the newly commissioned facility in the Lungi airport by President Julius Maada Bio on Friday, March 3, 2023. While some say the facility is a ‘brand new’ airport, others believe it is an ‘extension’ of the existing one.
Since the commissioning of the facility, some critics, including a Social Media Influencer, Joe Hanson, argued that the president commissioned a new terminal extension at the already existing Freetown International Airport, which contradicts the stand of supporters and government officials of the Sierra Leone People’s Party hailing construction of a new airport.
A member of the Strategic Communications Units at the Ministry of Information and Communications, Peter Beckley, also shared on a Facebook post that the new facility is an airport. He said in his post,
“I witnessed the opening of the new Ultra modern Airport on Friday, March 3, 2023, which was an experience close to hysteria.”
Given the controversy, this story has generated in Sierra Leone over the last couple of weeks and the need to set the records straight on the matter, DUBAWA decided to investigate the matter.
A new airport or terminal?
DUBAWA sought to discover whether or not the edifice was a completely new one or an old one that had undergone a significant facelift.
Revisiting the timelines
On Wednesday, December 16, 2020, the Parliament of Sierra Leone debated and ratified the Lungi Freetown International Airport expansion project agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the Russian-owned Summa Airports Limited.
In his statement while presenting the agreement in parliament prior to ratification, the Deputy Minister of Transport and Aviation, Sadiq Sillah, said that the Freetown International Airport project would focus mainly on the construction of a new passenger terminal that will cater for three million passengers, construction of a VIP/presidential lounge, resealing of the runway, construction of the taxiway, a new airport traffic terminal, search and rescue fire force unit, rehabilitation of the car park and road safety and its signs.
On Thursday, November 12, 2020, the President, Dr Julius Maada Bio, turned the sod for what State House described as,
“the commencement of a $270 million work on the new airport terminal project that will accommodate one million passengers per year and provide 2000 direct jobs for Sierra Leoneans in the construction phase.”
The Country Director of the SUMMA Group in Sierra Leone, Ibrahim Sheriff, said, “They were a multinational Turkish company operating in about eight African countries, adding that they are building a new terminal that would create the transformation of a new airport in Lungi.”
In his keynote address, while launching the project, Dr Julius Maada Bio said,
“They will build a brand new airport terminal, Presidential and VIP lounge – with ultra-modern equipment. The airport, he said, would accommodate at least eight large aircraft, adding that after its completion, Sierra Leone will have a brand new airport – a modern, safe, and state-of-the-art international airport reflective of the New Direction Government.”
Contrary to what some Sierra Leone People’s Party party supporters and senior government ministers have been saying, President Bio, during the commissioning, cleared the air. He announced that the project is not a newly built airport, but a new passenger terminal: A new arrival and departure terminal built adjacent to the existing Lungi Freetown International Airport. This can be found on page six of his remarks at the Formal Commissioning of the New Freetown International Airport Terminal and Facilities on March 3, 2023.
President Bio, in his statement, said that they had undertaken this investment because they believe it promotes job creation, boosts new growth sectors (tourism), supports international trade, and attracts new investment streams in other sectors.
The president, on page number 6 of his statement, asked;
“So, what have we built?
a. a new Passenger Terminal;
b. a new Presidential and VIP terminal;
c. a new Air Traffic Control Tower with ultramodern equipment, ICT infrastructure, and radiotelephony;
d. a new parallel taxiway that connects to the existing runway, with connecting bridges;
e. a new apron area that accommodates at least eight large aircraft;
f. a new search and rescue and new firefighting facility;
g. the resurfacing and refurbishment of the existing runway and the installation of new navigational aids and ground aids.
h. A 1.5 MW solar farm that supplies green energy to the new airport facility. This is unique in the region.
Further, a tweet shared by Mr Bio on his Twitter page also dispels the suppositions that the new infrastructure is a new airport. The president said,
“04/03/2023 was a momentous day for our great nation #SierraLeone. As part of my SLPP Government’s efforts to transform the infrastructural landscape, I opened the new state-of-the-art Freetown International Airport Terminal Building & supporting infrastructure in Lungi, Port Loko.”
President Julius Maada Bio, on Friday, March 3, 2023, didn’t commission a ‘brand new’ airport but a new terminal for the existing airport. The project since inception was to expand Lungi airport to include a new and larger terminal and relaying of the runway to accommodate larger and more airlines, in keeping with international standards.