Liberia’s recovery from the setback endured during the Ebola crisis received a lift on Aug. 29 with the signing of a memorandum of understanding by executives of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Roberts International Airport (RIA) located 35 miles from Monrovia, the West African country’s capital.
The agreement, similar to those Hartsfield-Jackson has with airports in Israel, Ivory Coast, El Salvador and Jamaica, was signed at the Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal by Hartsfield’s general manager, Roosevelt Council, and Will Freeman, managing director of RIA.
Candace Byrd, the Atlanta mayor’s chief of staff, and Cynthia Blandford, the honorary consul general of Liberia, also participated in the ceremony.
Mr. Freeman told Global Atlanta that during his visit to Atlanta he already had met with officials of Hartsfield-Jackson and Delta Air Lines Inc. to discuss the terms of the memorandum and the possibility of Delta restarting its flights to RIA.
“Hartsfield is well advanced and we don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “With this agreement we will benefit from their experience which they are willing to share with us.”
Technical teams from both Hartsfield and RIA will work together to develop the Liberian airport’s cargo facility and its logistics capabilities of handling cargo efficiently and to construct a new terminal by the middle of next year.
He also mentioned that efforts already underway to expand its runway so it can accept larger planes as well as to improve its marketing campaigns.
RIA traces its origins back to 1942 during World War II when it was built by the U.S. as an Air Force base to check the spread of Axis influence in the region.
It also became a focal point for the many flights coming in with medical supplies and personnel to deal with the Ebola crisis that was declared officially contained two years ago.
Mr. Freeman said that his objective remained to see the facility eventually become a regional hub, but that he didn’t expect Delta would begin flying there before 18 months or two years had passed.
“We’re on their radar,” he said, adding that Delta’s partner KLM Airlines does have a flight to RIA from Amsterdam as does Belgian Airways from Brussels. Other airlines that also fly into RIA, which he mentioned, include Kenya Airways, Royal Air Maroc and South African Airways.
Delta began flying to RIA in 2010 from New York and in September of that year launched a flight from Atlanta, which at the time marked the airline’s seventh to Africa including flights to Accra, Ghana; Abuja, Nigeria; Cairo, Egypt; Dakar, Senegal; Johannesburg, South Africa and Lagos, Nigeria.
The Liberian flight, however, was discontinued due to slow demand.
Although an RIA-Harstfield flight may be a few years away, the mood of the memorandum’s announcement was festive.
Mr. Council said that the signing was “long awaited,” and that he was “honored to open our doors to you.” He also said that the economic impact of the memorandum would affect both sides of the Atlantic as more flights are added and more jobs are created.
“With collaboration and cooperation,” he added, “we will be promoting economic growth and strengthening economic ties, understanding and goodwill.”
Ms. Byrd underscored that even as an “Olympic City” Atlanta can’t “survive in a vacuum and needs effective, reliable partnerships,” such as the one underscored by the memorandum.
She also foresaw joint opportunities in the areas of agricultural, real estate, mining and infrastructure development as strengthening the relationship.
Prior to the ceremony’s conclusion, Ms. Blandford conferred on both Mr. Council and Ms. Byrd honorary citizenship of Liberia.
To learn more about Liberia-Atlanta initiatives Mr. Blandford may be reached at (404) 590-1655 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org