The euphoria that greeted news about building a modern passenger terminal at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) took a slump when viewers saw that the building was not as big as they anticipated.
In March of this year, the Daily Observer interacted with some departing Liberians, who said that considering the length of the airport, it was better to have a terminal building bigger and lengthier than what is being erected.
In response to this concerns, Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) Managing Director, Wil Bako Freeman, told the Daily Observer earlier this month that the size of the terminal was determined by the flow of passengers and flights coming into the country.
Citing Ghana’s example, which many Liberians reference in terms of development, Freeman said, “that country has about 20 million people, with four million people living in Accra, the capital, alone.” Complementing Mr. Freeman’s estimates, Ghana’s 2016 population statistics record well over 28 million people that year.
In that context, he said, there is a high concentration of passengers, which attracts flights in that country as compared to Liberia that has only 4 million people, many of whom are not travelers.
Freeman agreed that countries with larger passenger terminals enjoy such facilities “because of the frequent flow of passengers, due to things [about the country] that attract them. This, in turn, promotes the flow of revenue, which facilitates the erection of those larger terminals.”
Although the newly erected terminal at the RIA is considerably smaller in size as compared to the Kotoka International Airport in Ghana, or the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya, the Project Manager for the terminal construction, Anthony P. Togba, II, says that the new terminal will contain all the characteristics of a contemporary modern terminal. There will be escalators, shopping centers, restaurants and well maintained restrooms, offices for state security and airport workers as well as boarding and exit gates for passengers, he said.
Still justifying the size of the terminal, Mr. Freeman said Liberia is strategically located in West Africa, which is close to North and South America where a bulk of the people leaving from the country go in search of other opportunities.
Nevertheless, he said, the passenger demography remains so scanty that it cannot encourage the flow of more flights to Liberia.
While some valuable activities, such as cargo management, have led to improvement in services at the airport, Mr. Freeman said Liberia has to do more to attract visitors, especially tourists.
He said when tourism sites like Kpatawee Waterfall in Bong County, the Lake Piso in Grand Cape Mount and other beautiful natural landscapes in the country are developed to attract tourists, it is highly likely that more passengers will flow into the country, something which will determine the need to expand the terminal.
Freeman assured that in six months, another facelift is coming to RIA, but it is also imperative on the government and the people to do their part so that tourists will see the need to visit Liberia in order to boost the flow of in-bound flights.
He frowned on the negative public attitude of many Liberians, referencing the stealing of solar lamps that provided electricity along the road leading to Unification Town (Smell No Taste).
“Apart from the [immediate] vicinity of the airport where you find lights during the night hours, all other areas extending beyond are in darkness. How can people be attracted when they visit here?” he asked.
He also called on government and business people to begin investing in accommodation and hospitality industries, as the LAA is contemplating on the same venture to make RIA an airport city.
Who is Wil Bako Freeman?
Mr. Freeman received his high school education at the erstwhile St. Patrick High School in Monrovia. He then enrolled in the University of Minnesota in the U.S. where he earned his Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Economics, and later enrolled at the Rutgers University in New Jersey where he obtained his Master of Business Administration (MBA).
He is a Commissioned Bank Examiner from the Federal Reserve System in the U.S. and has specialized in Banking Supervision and Market Risk Management for nine years with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Freeman obtained a Certificate in Airport Executive Leadership Program from the Airport Council International (ACI)/Aviation Management Institute at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia, University in Canada.
He worked as a Senior Advisor to the Minister of Commerce and Industry (RL) from October 2006 to September 2007.
Prior to taking over the Liberia Airport Authority in 2015 as managing director, Freeman served as director for operations and Regional Integration as well as Director of Corporate Services at the West African Monetary Institute (WAMI). He also served the Liberia Better Business Forum (LBBF) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group.