Government’s slow march on interior aviation development

A great deal of credit is due to the consortium of local commercial aircraft operators comprising Ogle Airport Inc, which, more than ten years ago, embraced the challenge of rehabilitating and modernizing what was then known as the Ogle aerodrome, transforming it into what is now the Ogle International Airport.

Both domestic and external aviation are benefiting from the significantly enhanced infrastructure at Ogle. The new airport has also opened up additional potentially lucrative possibilities for sectors that are important to the country’s economy, mining being perhaps the most significant one.

The challenge of creating an airport to the demanding standards required by the International Civil Aviation Organization meant not only that the investors had to make significant financial commitments to the project, but also that they had to create a management regime capable of effectively executing such a project.

The available evidence suggests that, in both respects, OAI has done what was required of it. By contrast and based on the observations that the local aviators themselves have been making in recent years and particularly over the past year or so, the government has not done anywhere near enough to complement the efforts of Ogle Airport Inc by improving the hinterland aviation infrastructure, particularly interior airstrips and attendant facilities; so that we have now arrived at a juncture where some of the critical pieces required in order to complete the mission of being able to move more passengers and cargo from the coast to the hinterland are yet to fall into place.

Some of the issues that have arisen out of government’s failure, over the years, to invest in interior airstrip and airport development include safety considerations for interior aviation, the limits placed on the size of aircraft that can land on our interior airstrips and by extension the numbers of passengers and the volume of cargo that can be moved to interior locations and the wear and tear on small aircraft having to use sub-standard interior airstrips. Beyond those considerations it has even been suggested that the volume of aviation activity at a few interior locations (Lethem is as good an example as any) makes a case for the creation of a few modest interior airports at some locations.

The underdevelopment of our interior aviation facilities has become more apparent in circumstances where, for one reason or another, there has been significantly increased air travel between the coast and the interior and where some private aviation companies have already indicated their preparedness to invest in larger aircraft, evidently on the condition that government invest in the creation of bigger, better airstrips.

If the government wants to demonstrate its commitment to the mining and tourism sectors, and of course to the broader development of the hinterland, it can do much worse than make meaningful investments in the rehabilitation and modernization of airstrips and attendant facilities. Discourses surrounding the incremental improvement of interior aviation facilities had begun even as the rehabilitation of Ogle was being contemplated. More than a decade later – and Ogle Airport Inc having announced just last week that LIAT will now be landing its 70-seater ATR 72 aircraft at Ogle, not a single interior airstrip has been developed to a point where the tourism sector can take advantage of the potentially larger numbers of visitors who may now be inclined to visit the country’s interior locations. The next move in the direction of significantly improving interior aviation infrastructure is manifestly the government’s responsibility and we should not be expected to wait the proverbial year and a day for that move.

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