Delta Airlines is poised to become the second major airline to suspend operations in Liberia, FrontPageAfrica has reliably learned. A recent FrontPageAfrica report breaking the departure of Air France from Liberia was validated last month when the airline announced its decision to end its biweekly flights to Liberia, attributing the decision to little profit margins on its Monrovia route.
Air France had endured a turbulent run in Liberia. In 2012, poor and dilapidated runway at the Roberts International Airport inflicted damage on an AF752 which caused a rugged landing with damage set at almost a half a million dollars. Additionally, foreign objects seemingly entered the plane's engine on another occasion, two incidents which were brought to the attention of both the Roberts International Airport and the Civil Aviation Authority.
FrontPageAfrica has now learnt that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has reportedly been notified about Delta's decision to suspend service to Liberia and a delegation comprising the President's Legal Advisor, Seward Cooper, also the Chair of the board of the National Oil Company of Liberia(NOCAL) and Gyude Moore, Deputy Minister of State for Presidential Affairs have reportedly been dispatched to Atlanta to prevail on Delta CEO Richard Anderson to have a change of heart. The airline has reportedly penciled in August 31st as its cutoff date.
A government statement confirming the report late Wednesday said it is in high-level consultations with the management of Delta Airlines intended to explore options that will not disrupt the experience and convenience of traveling via Delta. "Delta has informed the Liberian Government that the last eastbound flight from New York will occur on August 30th, and the last westbound flight from Monrovia will be on August 31st," the statement said.
No Confirmation, Denial from Delta
Boo Brewer, Delta's country director in Liberia, when contacted said she could not confirm or deny the report, but suggested that FrontPageAfrica contact Delta's Corporate office in Atlanta. However, FrontPageAfrica has been unable to get a response from Delta Corporate despite several attempts and promises that one would be made. An agent said FPA's request had been sent to the company's international office, which has not responded in the last 48 hours.
Delta made its first landing on Liberian soil on Sunday, September 5, 2010, after the airline received approval for local boarding and traffic rights for its service between Accra's Kotoko International Airport and Roberts International Airport in Monrovia. Prior to Delta's arrival, the Federal Aviation Authority of the United States provided through USAID, $3.4 million to upgrade facilities at the Roberts International Airport to internationally acceptable standards, a key condition for the resumption of direct flights from the United States to Liberian.
Delta's arrival was instrumented by U.S. billionaire and founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), Robert Johnson, who exerted his influence to facilitate the resumption of direct flights from the United States to Liberia.
The new service was trumpeted as offering customers the opportunity to fly non-stop between Monrovia and Accra providing increased travel choice for travelers across West Africa, the company said in a statement. It also offered passengers an opportunity to fly between Monrovia and Accra, only, providing an important transport link helping to facilitate business and commerce between Liberia and Ghana. The service also came as a relief for many Liberians who encountered difficulties getting something close to a direct flight from the U.S. to Liberia.
,Reasons for the imminent pullout of Delta remains sketchy with highly-placed source confidential sources, speaking on condition of anonymity suggesting that Delta's exit is due to "political" consideration amid the Ebola epidemic, fear-gripped by the increase in death toll in Washington. Some observers say, the pullout could also be tied to Washington's frustration with the wave of corruption in the UP-led government. Diplomatic observers are, however concerned that the pull out of a major U.S. business originally seen as a vote of confidence in the Sirleaf-led government at this time could open the government to a wave of criticisms and opposition scrutiny.
Business Good, Move Could be Political
Sources have also ruled out the exit being hinged on profit margins because Delta has impressively experienced encouraging load factor on its New York ROB axis. Flight records obtained by FrontPageAfrica shows that from December 2013 to June 2014, Delta recorded a total of 11, 464 arriving passengers to Liberia and 11,082 passengers departing. Traditionally, aviation sources say airlines are required to serve the Civil Aviation Authority a 90-day notice. Unlike Air France, DL has not officially communicated with the CAA, sources tell FPA.
However, Delta is a member of the Sky team as is Air France. In the case of the French, load factor and low profit margins were cited. Delta, according to aviation sources, has not had any major problem with the runway.
FrontPageAfrica has learned that US$60million has been secured for runway rehabilitation. No mention has been made of a complete electrical revamp or improvement to the shabby terminal. But some technical staff from RIA traveled to South Africa for a refresher course of runway pavement.
Delta has had a rather stormy stay in Liberia. In 2010 Delta was in the news for all the wrong reasons when Delta contracted International Security Defense System (ISDS) that provides screening services attempted to subject Vice President Joseph Boakai to security screening. There was hues and cries from Liberians from all walks of life over Delta's action. A delegation from Delta led by its Vice President rendered an abject apology to Vice President Boakai while in the U.S.
In 2012, the Air Lines suspended service between Atlanta and Accra, Ghana, and Monrovia, Liberia, in amid "persistently high jet fuel prices and fluctuations in passenger demand." Although the Atlanta flight was phased out, Delta increase its weekly frequency from New York to Accra from four flights to five, the airline said in a statement at the time. The removal of three Atlanta flights and three to Monrovia cut the number of Delta weekly flights serving the Ghanaian capital in half.
Delta has also had a stormy relationship with the Civil Aviation Authority. In 2013, the LCAA in partnership with its Ghanaian counters took Delta to task over aged planes on the New York - Accra - Robertsfield route. The action of the CAAs was due to concerns about safety and security considerations for thousands of their citizens flying DL. Lingering Feud with LCAA
Delta, FPA has learnt, has been unsuccessful in airing their grievances with President Sirleaf. Delta was also engulfed in a bitter exchange with the Civil Aviation Authority after LCAA boss Archie Williams said the airline was unsafe for the President to fly.
Williams, in a press statement at the time, said unless certain conditions are met by Delta Air, President Sirleaf may not take a flight on it should there be any immediate or future plan by her to do so. Director General Williams lamented that the airline had on a number of occasions, unceremoniously cancelled or delayed flights to the detriment of Liberian travelers for unexplainable reasons.
Williams said at the time that Delta was undergoing technical and mechanical problems, which threatened the safety of its Liberian passengers, something about which a formal complaint has already been made.
"As a result of a series of delays and technical delays and cancellations of Delta flights en route to Liberia via Accra, the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority took the lead to a two-approach with Ghana's acquiescence to make a formal representation to Delta Management requesting explanation for the delays and cancellations; the two countries have so far communicated their concerns to Delta Management in Atlanta," Williams asserted.
Implications, Repercussions Pivotal
"Owing to the urgency attached to the matter by Liberia and Ghana, a combined team of safety inspectors is being mobilized to carry out a comprehensive safety audit of Delta's operation operational and maintenance within the shortest possible time to meticulously and specifically conduct safety inspections on all '767-300 series short-listed on Delta's Aircraft Operating Certificate (AOC) viz-a-viz Air service License (ASL) issued by the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority, "he assured.
It is unclear whether the airline's rocky relationship with the LCAA could be a contributing factor to its decision to call it quits on Liberia. But Delta has in recent months cut down service to a number of countries. The Associated Press reported on Monday that Delta announced that it was eliminating 85% of its flights to the South American nation in August, the same month it plans to end its Liberia flights, joining a number of other airlines that are dramatically reducing service in the face of what they say are billions of unpaid revenues.
Business wise, the implications and repercussions of a Delta pullout of Liberia in the aftermath of last weekend's riots at the ArcellorMittal base in Yekepa, Nimba County, could be severe and dampen Liberia's burgeoning post-war aviation industry.
Politically, however, interpretations and perceptions could prove pivotal as critics and opposition alike begin to decipher the meaning of a major American investment turning its backs on a nation it once hoped would be the "Success Story in Africa". For now, though, the Sirleaf administration would be hoping that its last-ditch effort and quest to force Delta to have a change of heart could help salvage a potentially-damaging setback for the Sirleaf-led government.
DELTA TIMELINE: KEY MOMENTS IN THE U.S. AIRLINER - FLYING LIBERIA SKIES
Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television's exerts influence to facilitate the resumption of direct flights from the U.S. to Liberia, prevailing on Delta who express support and described as good prospects for direct flights to Liberia by Delta. The Federal Aviation Authority of the United States has provided through USAID, $3.4 million to upgrade facilities at the Roberts International Airport to internationally acceptable standards, to meet conditions set by U.S.
SEPTEMBER 5, 2010
Delta receives approval for local boarding and traffic rights for its service between Accra's Kotoko International Airport and Roberts International Airport in Monrovia, Liberia. The ebut flight arrives at RIA.
Delta-contracted International Security Defense System (ISDS) that provides screening services attempted to subject Vice President Joseph Boakai to security screening, drawing condemnation from a cross-section of Liberians. United States Ambassador to Liberia, Mrs. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Friday, June 24 called on Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, Sr. at his Capitol Building office to apologize for the incident at the Roberts International Airport.
The Director General of the LCAA, Mr. Richelieu Williams, in a press statement cautions that unless certain conditions are met by Delta Air, President Sirleaf may not take a flight on it should there be any immediate or future plan by her to do so.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is notified by Delta that it plans to end Liberia flights on August 27, 2014.