Monrovia — SN Brussels, one of the most consistent airlines flying from Europe to Monrovia on Wednesday re-routed to Freetown, Sierra Leone when the plane, after descending sufficiently to touch ground, suddenly aborted landing at the Roberts International Airport due to power outage at the airport and on the runway.
The scary situation did not only cause panic among passengers on board but also delayed passengers at the RIA who were waiting to board the flight.
The flight was limited on jet fuel but sources at the airport say landing in the dark could be catastrophic to the flight, its passengers and the airport.
In a video recorded in the plane and shared with FrontPageAfrica, the pilot is heard announcing, "I would like to inform you that the airport in Monrovia is closed and there is no electricity at the moment. They're trying to fix it, but we have some fuel to do a few miles; but until now, we don't have any contact at the airport of Monrovia so we have decided to go back to Freetown. In Freetown, we will see if we can take some fuel and what the decision would be next... "
The flight later returned to the RIA after the airport was powered. This caused a delay for outbound passengers scheduled to take off from the RIA at 8:30 pm. They were rescheduled to 9:30 pm and later moved to 10:30 pm.
"The plane left after 11:30 pm. It was delayed for three hours. Some passengers were frustrated and concerned about missing connecting flights.
The pilot just apologized for the delay and said it was a blackout at RIA," a passenger informed FrontPageAfrica.
This is the second time in three months a descending plane has been forced to abort landing due to lack to dark runway at the RIA. In February, Royal Air Maroc was forced to also divert its landing to Freetown due to the same reason.
Airport authorities have blamed the unfortunate incident on the airport crew responsible for lighting at the airport and vowed to take punitive actions against those responsible.
So far, only SN Brussels and Air France are flying directly from Europe to Monrovia. However, Air France is expected to make its last trip to Liberia on April 30. The airlines said, the cancellation of flights to Monrovia is due to the inviability of the market here and the crisis in Mali. Air France resumed its flights to Monrovia in 2020.
"Based on the economic performance, the current geopolitical situation and the Air France-KLM's overall plan to restore its profitability, Air France has decided to suspend its flights to Monrovia, Liberia, as of the end of April 2022. Customers already booked on flights after the end of April, will be informed individually. The customers concerned can change their travel plans or cancel the trip and request a refund. Air France would like to thank the government of Liberia and the airport authorities for their continued support in the operation of this route" Air France stated in the statement issued.
Dark Airport Embarrassment
On March 28, President Weah and other government officials were greeted with darkness upon their arrival at the RIA from the United Arab Emirates where they had gone to participate in the EXPO Dubai 2020.
A day later, travelers were again compelled to use the torch of their respective phones to provide light in the terminals at the airport. A video that went viral on social media, showed the travelers complaining and expressing serious frustration over the disgraceful situation while awaiting their respective flights for departure along with their luggage.
Mr. Martin Hayes, Managing Director of the RIA, in a recent interview with FrontPageAfrica, lamented some of the challenges. "This is an international airport, and we have serious challenges when it comes to running the airport. I had to buy two brand new generators. At times, things get bad but what makes you a good leader is how quickly you can put things together and make it better for Mama Liberia. We have serious challenges when it comes to running the airport. It is difficult when you run the airport on generators and each costs US$47,000 just to keep the airport running."
Daily Shutdown Announced
Early this month, the airport management announced a daily shutdown of the airport beginning 12 am daily. Therefore, airlines were advised to reschedule late night and early morning flights.
The decision, according to the management of the airport, is intended to allow an electronification implementation work plan that will run about six to 10 months beginning April this year.
At the time, FrontPageAfrica obtained a copy of a communication from the Acting Managing Director of the Airport to the Management of Royal Air Maroc apologizing for the blackout that occurred on the runway when its flight, AT565, was about to land. This incident occurred at about 4 AM on February 21, 2022.
According to the Airport management, it was working assiduously to ensure that such a serious incident does not reoccur.
The management stated that it intends to upgrade its electricity supply by inter-connecting to the national power grid which is currently under construction to ensure stable, uninterrupted power to customers.
Weah's Quick Fix
On April 5, the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill disclosed President Weah had formed a cabinet committee to work along with the management of the RIA to make some prompt interventions.
He named some of the interventions as the working of the air navigation system which has not been changed for over 25 years, the improvement of stable electricity including another source of power, a solar system as well as the increase in fire system equipment, among others.
The new terminal at the Roberts International Airport was built by the Chinese at the cost of US$55 million and began deteriorating after the two-year maintenance contract Chinese expired.
FrontPageAfrica gathered that the government could not renew the contract and was not willing to pay the Chinese to train the local staff to continue the maintenance of the facility.
This has also led to the refusal of airlines, including SN Brussels, to use the bridge passengers are to use to embark and disembark the plane as it almost caused damage to an SN Brussel flight.
However, Minister McGill pointed out that as part of the government's new plans, they will sign a new contract with the Chinese to ensure that they help train Liberians for the process.
Minister McGill put the cost of the project at around US$22 to US$23 million within a period of six to seven months, especially with the involvement of the legislature.
For his part, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah said the airport ran on generators for about 15 years, which he said is unacceptable in this 21st century.
He said the government is committed to addressing the problem which he said would set yet another unprecedented record for the Liberian leader. "We are now under obligation to look for money where we did not even budget for it especially when resources are scarce," Minister Tweah said.