Liberia: Economic Impact of Brussels Airlines Halting Flights to RIA

SN Brussels at the Roberts International Airport

.... Brussels Airlines leaving Liberia is a national economic loss and in the short-term, it would negatively impact the revenue intake of the RIA, which heavily depends on the airlines for some lion's share of its revenue.

The Roberts International Airport has had its share of problems of late but SN Brussels’ decision yesterday to cancel all flights to Liberia has now amplified the problem.

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. 

“It is of the utmost importance that we operate each and every flight in a safe, secure, and compliant manner,” the Belgium-based airline said in a statement announcing its flight cancellation decision. “Therefore we urge the airport of Monrovia to comply with the regulations implied by ICAO as soon as possible. 

“In the meantime, Brussels Airlines sees itself forced to cancel its flights between Brussels and Monrovia. All passengers impacted by these cancellations will be contacted by Brussels Airlines.”

Brussels Airlines leaving Liberia is a national economic loss and, in the short-term, it would negatively impact the revenue intake of the RIA, which heavily depends on revenue from service fees paid by airlines.

When a commercial aircraft such as Brussels Airlines lands at RIA, it pays fees for landing, parking, and other services, as well as fuel. Meanwhile, the airliner’s flight crew uses the hotels, vehicle rentals and so that will be a loss in revenue for the country, especially being the largest airline flying to Liberia. 

The airline has the largest plane flying to Liberia, bringing in more people than any other airline, most of which are sub-regional airlines. 

SN Brussels is used by lots of Diaspora Liberians flying back home for holiday trips during December.  As such, the airline's latest decision would negatively impact them on grounds that they will have to spend extra money traveling from nearby countries. 

“Before Brussels Airlines operates flights to any destination, certain technical and operational prerequisites have to be fulfilled,” the airline said.  “At present, the airport of Monrovia is suffering from certain deficiencies that unfortunately do not allow us to dispatch our aircraft and have it perform an approach and landing in accordance with our operating procedures.”

The SN Brussels statement came after Frontpage Africa had reported yesterday that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has sanctioned the RIA over the malfunctioning navigation system and has given a three-month ultimatum for the repair of the equipment.

The ICAO sanction also comes as the RIA suffers from a malfunctioning localizer, another important navigation system, which is needed to aid in the smooth landing of aircraft, according to FPA. A localizer is used to provide pilots with both vertical and horizontal guidance during an approach to land.

A source in the aviation sector told the Daily Observer that, since early June, 2022, there has been no instrument approach procedures at RIA. Therefore, aircrafts, like Brussels Airlines, have to visually approach the airport, especially during heavy rain, which is extremely dangerous. 

The navigation problem is not known, since the airport has on numerous occasions suffered from poor navigational aids, impacting its relationship with airlines who have had turbulent times flying to Liberia. 

The airport has also this year suffered from a serious power blackout that risks the lives of many people.  

In February, around 2 a.m., 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 no not wait any longer after circling aimlessly above the RIA, it went to Sierra Leone.

Also on March 28, President George Weah and other government leaders arrived at a pitch-black airport after returning from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where they had attended Expo Dubai. A day later, passengers were once again forced to use smartphone flashlights while waiting for the aircraft to depart.

 On April 27, another blackout at the airport prompted an SN Brussels plane to abort the landing and divert to Freetown, Sierra Leone, in the night hours on low jet fuel. 

This year, also, RIA’s fire and rescue systems were downgraded due to limited fire vehicles and equipment.  These problems and many others forced the Senate, through an Ad-Hoc Committee in July, to ask the government to outsource the RIA for profitability and smooth operations. 

The Committee noted that the structural and management issues endanger the safety of aircraft and its passengers.  The Committee report, among other things, revealed several technical and capacity gaps in the operations of the Airport, which increased the need for outsourcing. 

And two months later, Brussels Airlines is now canceling flights, citing similar concerns as the Senate Committee.  Brussels Airlines flights are being canceled on grounds that the RIA has  not met certain technical and operational prerequisites which, among other things, include aircraft performing an approach and landing in accordance with “our operating procedures.”

The RIA, the nation's busiest and most important aviation facility, is in dire need of upgrades not just to its electrical systems, but also its apron — where aircraft are parked, navigation systems, and runway.