The much heralded Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional integration agenda seems to now be taking root in recent years as countries of the region have begun to embark upon initiatives that will ensure true and genuine integration within the region.
And it was in this spirit of regional integration that MedView Airline, a private Nigerian aviation firm, on Tuesday, December 20, 2016, launched its maiden flight from Lagos, Nigeria, to the Roberts International Airport (RIA), Liberia. MedView Airline will be operating a regular flight to Accra, Ghana, Monrovia, Liberia, and Freetown, Sierra Leone.
This means that Liberians and other foreign nationals who want to travel to any ECOWAS state will now be spared the headache of sometimes travelling as far as Casablanca, Morocco, or to Europe before reaching their final destinations.
At a brief ceremony upon the arrival of MedView flight Number VL0203, ECOWAS Ambassador to Liberia, Tunde Ajisomo, said this development is a huge boost to the integration agenda of the region that has been drastically pursued by ECOWAS leaders in recent years.
The Ambassador said the arrival of the flight to Liberia and subsequently to Sierra Leone will boost economic activities as well as ensure smooth and timely travel across the region. “This is a bold move on the part of the Board and management of MedView to have extended its services to these parts of the region,” he said, describing what he termed as an actualization of a long discussion, as a “good day for MedView, Liberia and ECOWAS.”
The original vision of the Founding Fathers of ECOWAS was one of intraregional commerce and cooperation, which was both ambitious and visionary. Many believe this vision was 30 years ahead of the current globalization trend. In this light, Ambassador Ajisomo noted that these dreams are now being actualized.
He noted that the aviation industry plays a very critical role in the development of any region and what MedView has begun would serve as a catalyst for the ECOWAS region. “We look forward to hearing of a daily flight within the region.”
The original ECOWAS agenda was aimed at addressing the most critical bottlenecks to integration among member states and also included a framework for solving inter-state conflicts. “In the latter part we have been there while in the former we are getting there,” he said.
Quoting President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during the negotiations to bring MedView to Liberia, the Ambassador noted, “This will go a long way in promoting regional integration as it relates to trade, social and smooth travel all in the vision of ECOWAS.”
President Sirleaf is the Chairperson of the Heads of State of ECOWAS.
“This is a dream come true for our region because we have been working towards these kinds of initiatives in our region for some time now. We are grateful to the government of Liberia and the management of MedView for this milestone.
“Our people, especially our businesspeople, need smooth and quick movements as they go about their businesses; and I strongly believe this will be of great help,” Ambassador Ajisomo noted.
ECOWAS has been robust in recent times with the initiation of meaningful projects aimed at integrating the region. This regional body has also been very instrumental in the providing of energy across the region with the establishment of the West African Power Pool (WAPP) project that is being actualized in Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, and Guinea (CLSG).
The development of the WAPP is to establish a well-functioning, cooperative, power-pooling mechanism for West Africa as a means to increase access of the citizens of the region to stable and reliable electricity at affordable costs.
Also underway is the construction of a super-highway intended the link all of the countries of the region. According to some reliable regional leaders, this project will begin very soon.
Also speaking at the ceremony, RIA Managing Director William Bako Freeman said, “the discussion to bring MedView to Liberia started a year or two back and I’m very grateful that we have reached thus far where I’m seeing this airline in our country.”
He noted that this will ease the burden on Liberians who want to travel within the region. “In addition to this, the more airlines we have flying to RIA the better competition we will have and this will definitely determine airfares. So those who have been talking about deduction in ticket prices need not worry. The coming of MedView and others to follow create a competitive environment and help reduce price.”
MedView CEO Muneer Bankole, who lauded President Sirleaf for the instrumental role she played in bringing the airline to Liberia, said the initiative is part of its efforts to support President Sirleaf’s agenda aimed at facilitating free movement of trade and services within the ECOWAS region.
MedView, Bankole noted, will create a lot of jobs for Liberians, especially young people who have the desire to serve in the industry.
Bankole once served as a young officer of the Nigerian contingent of ECOMOG that served in Liberia during the civil war in the 1990s. He noted that he had a great time in Liberia and hopes this good relationship continues in the future. Though he is no longer in the military services where he helped to bring peace to Liberia, he now does so in the business sector.
He promised that his airline will deliver the best of services as compared to other regional or global airlines, and will employ many Liberians.
Since government broke ground for the renovation of the RIA, there has been good news of renowned airlines coming or resuming flights to the country. One of these is the Lufthansa Airlines, the largest airline company in Europe in terms of passengers and fleet size.
Liberia and the People’s Republic of China signed two agreements recently totaling US$50 Million for the rehabilitation of the terminal and runway of the RIA.
Also known as Deutsche Lufthansa, Lufthansa Airlines, which came in existence in year 1953 but started to operate in 1955 as flag carrier of Germany, will commence operation to Liberia early next year. It has two major operating hubs in Europe, at Frankfurt and Munich Airports. It is a founding member of Star Alliance and serves various destinations worldwide.
This airline offers services to more than 78 countries in Asia, Europe, America and Africa. Another airline that will soon commence flights to Liberia is KLM, which currently operates in Accra, Ghana.