Liberia - Us Govt Says 'Ria Becoming Less Safe'

-- "The US Embassy in Monrovia is aware of several recent audits of RIA, all of which have revealed significant shortcomings in airport safety, security, and operational standards," US Embassy in Monrovia said.

The US government has warned that the Roberts International Airport is becoming less safe as a result of lapses in the airport safety, security, and emergency standards.

The US Embassy in a travel alert yesterday, said the failure of the country's only international airport to pass several compliance audits recently raises concern about the safety of the airport and incoming flights and passengers.

"US citizens contemplating air travel into or out of RIA, which is Liberia's only international airport, should be aware that several airport safety, security, and emergency response capabilities remain below international standards," the alert reads.

"The US Embassy in Monrovia is aware of several recent audits of RIA, all of which have revealed significant shortcomings in airport safety, security, and operational standards," the release added.

The alert, which is damaging, comes as the Liberian government struggles to address Brussels Airlines' concerns about safety compliance, which include the calibration of the airport navigation equipment, the air traffic control tower, runway, and stand, as well as security setup.

The Belgium-based airline, which operates to over 100 destinations in Europe, North America, and Africa, is the only western airline flying to Liberia at least twice a week -- connecting the country with Europe and the United States.

But the airline has been complaining for months of overall safety defects at the RIA and, at one point in time, canceled all flights to Liberia but later withdrew such a decision after the government had promised to address their concerns.

This was in September of 2022 when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) sanctioned RIA over the malfunctioning navigation system and gave the government a three-month ultimatum to have the equipment repaired.

That has however not been the case as Brussels Airlines recently rubbished claims by the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) and the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority (LCAA) that the RIA has passed the airliner's compliance audit, saying the information was false.

The airport has also in time past suffered from serious power outages that risked the lives of both inbound and outbound passengers. On February 22, a Royal Air Maroc jet approaching the RIA had to divert to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to make an emergency landing, leaving numerous passengers stranded.

The decision came after the RIA runway and control tower lights went off just as the plane was about to land. And as the aircraft would not wait for any longer after circling aimlessly above the RIA, it went to Sierra Leone.

Similarly, this happened on a Brussels Airlines flight in April of 2022. Also, the RIA's fire and rescue systems were downgraded last year due to limited fire vehicles and equipment.

All this was happening at a time President Weah had nominated a comedian who presented false credentials to head the Liberia Airport Authority as its managing director. And in the face of such dangerous circumstances at the country's only international airport, the President refused to withdraw the young man's nomination.

The President's refusal to withdraw the nomination, along with the Airport Authority's own safety and sustainability issues, forced the Senate to ask the government to consider outsourcing the RIA for profitability and smooth operations.

However, the US embassy in its alert added that the Liberia Airport Authority and the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority had taken steps to address the airport shortcomings, which necessitated the warning.

The Embassy advised that, while it is not aware that airlines have shortened their operating schedules to RIA, US persons who wish to visit Liberia should review or establish contingency travel plans.

The US government's alert would also come as a shocker to President George Manneh Weah, who boasted in his recent state of the nation address about his newfound graces with Washington -- cataloging commendations he received from senior US officials for his leadership here in Liberia.

The president, who boasted of his administration's overwhelming success since taking the helm of state, also made a bold declaration that sent diplomatic shockwaves through the spines of Washington's 'enemies', when he said Liberia has nothing to do with anyone who opposes Uncle Sam.

With that declaration, President Weah put US's rivals -- though he did not name any -- on notice that Liberia cannot befriend countries that are not friends with his country's traditional ally, the USA.

Despite those cozying overtures from Weah towards his US counterpart, many find it embarrassing that the US would, in no time, deal the CDC government with such a blow through the alert -- a move that suggests that Weah's newfound favor with Washington is not as cozy as he paints it to be.

Brussels Airlines is the largest and most consistent air carrier flying to Liberia, bringing in more passengers than any other airline, most of which are sub-regional airlines. It is used by lots of Diaspora Liberians flying back home for holiday trips throughout the year.

However, the airline was leaving Liberia due to RIA experiencing a malfunctioning navigation system, forcing Brussels Airlines to use its own system to land at the airport, which is extremely dangerous.

In time past, the airport had also faced problems with its localizer, another important navigation system, which is needed to aid in the smooth landing of aircraft. A localizer is used to provide pilots with both vertical and horizontal guidance during an approach to land.

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