Liberia: On 2nd Thought - Why RIA Should Be Outsourced

Liberia's premier airport, the Roberts International Airport (RIA) in Margibi County, once pride in the sub-region (Roberts Flight Region) during the country's pre-war era is currently running on life support, as flights continue to close their routes here.

Right now, there are only six airlines flying in and out of the country: Brussels, ASKY, Kenyan Airways, Air Cote d'Ivoire, Africa World Airlines and Royal Air Morac.

This number is expected to dwindle as Africa World Airlines is in advanced preparation for departure before the end of December 2022, leaving only 5 airlines in operation.

The reason for departure is due to poor facilities at the airport. Brussels had to relocate its offices at the airport to Farmington Hotel, directly opposite the airport after several appeals to airport management to improve airport facilities fell on deaf ears.

But AWA is not willing to follow suit and would therefore prefer to close its route in Liberia-after all the passenger intake is on a low amid high cost of operation.

The resulting effect of all of these would be very high cost of airfares in traveling to and from Liberia to the rest of the world with passengers facing limited options.

But come to think of this, the RIA has been beleaguered with plethora of problems ranging from structural issues down to management, electricity (the airport runs on generators), maintenance, and security, among others. These come with high costs for operation with low revenue intake as well.

As if those were not enough, the limited flights arriving have also exposed passengers, particularly incoming passengers to some level of harassment and intimidation as the airport security, including customs would descend on arriving passengers at the arrival hall like vultures descending on dead carcasses for meal as passenger try to collect their luggage.

These and many others have made the airport an unattractive destination to many airlines, which take security and safety of their planes very seriously, leaving passengers in the hands of the few risk takers with high cost of airfares to cover insurance.

Thus, on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, members of the Liberian Senate reached a decision to communicate with the Executive Branch for the entire Robert International Airport facilities to be outsourced for efficiency to meet present realities and international best standards.

The Senate's decision was triggered following a report from one of its Ad-hoc Committee set up to investigate the structural issue and other related matters at RIA.

The report recommended that there is a need to research the act creating the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA), Liberia Civil Aviation Authority (LCAA) and Ministry of Transport for duplication, multiplicity, miscarriage and misplacements of functions within the said acts.

The Ad-Hoc Committee said serious attention should be given to the security at the RIA to enhance their performance through budgetary allocation for the airport.

The Ad-hoc Chair Senator Jonathan B. Sogbie said there is no airport in this 21st century that operates on a generator unless in emergency and other unforeseen circumstances.

The Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) backup in the control tower is obsolete; part cannot be found and could shut down at any time, the committee found out.

"Liberia stands a risk of endangering aircraft landing at the RIA with the lack of electricity and proper communication; that presently, RIA uses 800 gallons of fuel per day for its operation which monthly purchase is US$148,000.00 and yearly amount of US$ 1,785,600.00 for the past four years. More than US$ 7,000.000.00 have been expended on the running of generators," Senator Sogbie said.

Now, it's an established fact that airport operations entail all the processes involved in an airport to ensure it is run efficiently and smoothly as possible. This includes customer service, something which is very much lacking at RIA, transportation security system, gateway operators and many more. Thus, making it necessary to call for outsourcing the airport.

In outsourcing cooperation, the contractor will commit time and resources even though he/she cannot generally guarantee a particular result and not taking transport business risks.

The outsourcing of ground handling is a common occurrence at airports today. The practice is far from simple, though, as the wide variety of tasks can range from aircraft cleaning and maintenance to fueling, baggage handling, deicing and even passenger check-in.

Additional staff, security clearances and physical space for both people and equipment are challenges to airports that outsource ground handling - as is maintaining a consistent level of customer service for passengers.

Therefore, the government should be encouraged to respond to the calls for outsourcing the entire RIA to improve services and attract investment in the sector.

RIA is the shortest route to America and the rest of the world from Africa. An outsourced airport with the right partner could improve the facility and attract airlines that would desire to make the port its hub, thereby attracting more passenger service and leading to a boost in the country's tourism industry as some investors would see that as an opportunity to invest in hotels within the airport vicinity.

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