Liberian joint venture company Global Logistics Services Inc. and National Aviation Services (GLS-NAS) broke ground on the construction of a US$11 million cargo terminal at Roberts International Airport (ROB). The new facility is intended to position ROB as a hub for cargo in West Africa’s Mano River sub region by strengthening and growing its cargo operations through the attraction of new carriers.
The 2,700 square meter “Roberts Air Cargo Center” (RACC) will include extended racking for storage, temperature-controlled cold storage, walk-in freezers, dangerous goods storage, a vault, mail area and five loading docks, according to Front Page Africa. Construction of the cargo terminal is expected to be completed by April 2020. The facility size fulfills a 14-year forecasted baseline for demand in the region and can be further expanded by 3,553 square meters, according to Construction Review Online. It will also include a dedicated space for customs inspections and the operations of other government agencies, as well as a separate freighter stand that will be developed by the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) to accommodate freighter parking for larger aircraft like the 777F, according to All Africa.
While none of the carriers currently operating at ROB utilize large widebody freighters there, last year, Brussels Airlines’ parent company Lufthansa Cargo began managing belly cargo capacity for Brussels Airlines, which operates scheduled service between ROB and Brussels Airport (BRU). According to our sister publication Cargo Facts, one of the advantages Lufthansa gained from its acquisition of Brussels Airlines is the carrier’s connections in Africa. Although it has not announced plans to operate at ROB, Lufthansa Cargo operates a fleet of seven 777Fs.
The project is part of a 25-year air cargo operations concession awarded to GLS by the Government of Liberia in 2016, that tasked GLS-NAS with the design, finance, maintenance, operation and transfer of a new and modern facility at ROB, as reported by our sister site, Air Cargo World. Currently, the joint venture operates ground handling for nine airlines – including Arik Air, Kenya Airways, Air Cote d’Ivoire, Brussels Airlines, Royal Air Morac, ASKY, Air Peace and DHL– out of RIA’s existing warehouse.
GLS-NAS chairman Peter Malcom King said, “Our Roberts Air Cargo Center will be the first of its kind in Liberia providing the much needed infrastructure to enhance air cargo supply chain operations, improve trade barriers and boost Liberia’s potential as a hub in the Mano River sub region,” according to Front Page Africa.
While already massive hubs may handle a large share of cargo in the EMEA region, ROB is not alone in vying for a slice of that market share as a small airport. Globally, there has been a trend of an increasing number of small and medium-sized airports developing their operations to attract air cargo industry stakeholders as alternatives to major congested airports lacking the capacity necessary for these companies’ growing operations.
Whether ROB will develop into a regional hub remains to be seen, but the construction of the RACC will support Liberia’s steps toward reintegration into global supply chains necessary to boosting the country’s participation in air cargo formerly weakened by decades of conflicts and the devastating outbreak of the Ebola virus.