Written by Nat Nyuan Bayjay Source: FrontPage Africa
The last time a commercial airplane left the runways of the Roberts International Airport (RIA) in Liberia directly for the United States of America (USA) was in May of 1990, when the guns were raging as the then National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebels had already captured a significant portion of the country. The port city of Buchanan in Grand Bassa County which is about 60 miles away from the RIA had just fallen to the rebels.
Two decades and three months later, an American plane is yet to make any direct flight from the war ravaged nation across the Atlantic Ocean.
According to Richelieu Archie Williams, Managing Director of the Civil Aviation, the American airlines’ resumption of flight on Sunday, September 5 is a result of frantic efforts on his part to convince a flight to resume direct international services to the country.
He said, “When I told the President that there was a need to have a direct flight here, she said well go ahead. She and I had a meeting in Washington, DC, sponsored by Bob Johnson, the Chairman of Delta who came in and we tried to convince him to resume flight in Liberia. And he said fine and that he would try to come”.
Speaking on the significance of the direct flight, Williams drew the following analogy: “When you look at Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana, it’s London that they go. Ghana, Sierra Leone and all of the other people (in the sub-region) go to Britain. The people from Guinea and other Franco-phone countries mainly go to France. Liberia is the only country where we all run to America”.
“Liberia is the closest country on the West Coast (of Africa) to the United States and I will say that about 80 to 90 per cent of the college graduates basically studied in the United States”, the Civil Aviation Boss stated.
Addressing a news conference Thursday at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, Williams told journalists: “So, we felt it wise to see what could be done about this.”
In his providing answers to how he got the Airline convinced to start its direct flight to the country, he said: “After they told us that we didn’t have the number of required passengers, we got to work. After that, we told them, saying, ‘Look, we have 5,200 people flying out of Liberia monthly. We got 5,700 people flying into Liberia monthly”.
Delta Airways, Delta had previously intended to begin service to Monrovia in June 2009, but was delayed while Roberts International Airport implemented measures to ensure its compliance with the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization. Delta has worked closely with the United States and Liberian governments while the airport facilities in Monrovia were properly equipped and prepared for the new service.
On the issue of security which prevented the Airline’s previously scheduled flight last year, the Civil Aviation man, in a recent interview with FPA said: “So, TSA has been coming for once a month for about a year. And they have conducted physical trainings on the ground for everybody that is basically involved and they have given us a list of things that we augmented. We built the security. We built the fences up and put the security barb-wire on them. We looked at the control tower. Then TSA the other day which is unofficial yet after one year says. ‘Yes, I can you are in compliance with it’. So, they will be coming as of September the 4th. There is no such thing as a 100 percent (safety) on any airport. J. F. Kennedy had its own faults and other airports but you have to supervise and keep vigilance on these things to maintain a minimum standard for these things for ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization). For now, yes Delta will be come and yes we’ve met the minimum standard of requirement”.
Delta Air Lines serves more than 160 million customers each year. With its unsurpassed global network, Delta and the Delta Connection carriers offer service to 367 destinations in 66 countries on six continents. Delta employs more than 70,000 employees worldwide and operates a mainline fleet of nearly 800 aircraft.
The resumption of Sunday’s direct flight is being highly anticipated which will mark the end of the 20 years and almost four months direct US flight-drought.