Interview: John Tambi, Chairman, Office of Presidential Infrastructure Initiative (OPII), Sierra Leone

Kevin Rozario


April 12, 2023

mod sierra leone Dr John Tambi OPII 2

Tambi: "The terminal was 97% complete at the time of the official opening."

© Government of Sierra Leone

It was a pivotal moment when Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio officially opened Freetown International Airport’s much-awaited new terminal building in Lungi, north of the capital.

This is the first large-scale airport infrastructure project to come on-stream since the small West African state gained independence from the UK in 1961. (For the full background to the ambitious FNA expansion, click here.)

Costing $270 million, and built by Turkey’s Summa Group, the terminal, which is triple the size of the old one, is part of a wider development plan to position Freetown International Airport (FNA) as an aviation hub for West Africa. The old terminal is expected to be taken over by the Sierra Leone Armed Forces as the HQ for all military air operations.

In an exclusive interview, AirportIR, spoke to John Tambi, Chairman of the Office of Presidential Infrastructure Initiative (OPII) in Sierra Leone about the project schedule, the decision to go for a public-private partnership, and what will happen next.

What was the timeline for the terminal and, in particular, the PPP tender?

The tender for the new airport terminal was made public in early 2020. The job was not just to build a new terminal but also to refurbish the taxiway (3.2 km long) at the airport and build a control tower, a 2MW solar farm and aviation gas storage facility, as well as upgrade of communication equipment to make the airport fully compliant with modern, industry-standard requirements.

The agreement was a public-private partnership contract to build, operate and transfer (BOT). In other words, the winner would take on the $270 million capital costs and then operate the airport for 25 years before handing it back to GoSL (Government of Sierra Leone). There were two final bids, one from a Chinese firm, the other from Summa, a Turkish construction company. Summa won and a contract was signed in November 2020.

It took a year to clear the site, to bring in the heavy plant needed for construction, and finalize plans. Ground was broken in late November 2021.

mod Sierra Leone wave terminal

A wave design marks out the new terminal at Freetown International Airport.

So is the terminal fully finished now?

The terminal was 97% complete at the time of the official opening on March 3, 2023, in other words, the build took 16 months. There are only a few outstanding elements left, including batteries for the solar farm which were yet to be delivered.

There was also a slight delay caused by a re-wording of the contract to allow for a shorter taxiway refurbishment (2.4 km, not 3.2 km), and a larger fuel storage site. The contract stipulates that the terminal must be 100% complete within three months of the opening ceremony, i.e. a grace period to allow for any defects to be spotted and ironed out. We expect the terminal will be 100% operational by June 3, 2023, but the first commercial flight used the terminal on March 25, 2023.

Are further PPP contracts likely to come up in connection with this airport?

The next major PPP contract will be to build a bridge across the estuary of the Sierra Leone River connecting Freetown city on the southern side with Lungi, on the northern side where the airport is. That contract involves dredging 60 acres of shallow water so that water’s edge property can be developed, along the lines of the Victoria & Albert Waterfront in Cape Town, a mixed-use commercial and residential water’s edge tourist area.

The bridge contract would also be on a BOT basis. The successful bidder would generate revenue from tolls on the bridge and from being given the right to market and develop the waterfront property. The cost of the build values the contract at $1.2 to $2 billion. Government sources say negotiations have already begun and a tender could be made public before the end of 2023.

After the bridge, the next PPP contract would be to develop hotels and a business park at Lungi close to the current airport. The value of any such project is much less than that envisaged for the bridge.