Royal Dutch Airline, KLM, one of Europe’s leading airline which connects Liberia to Europe and America made its final departure from Liberia on Sunday, 20 January 2019.
Details of KLM’s departure from Liberia are still sketchy, but sources say the airline finally pulled out after Liberian officials refused to negotiate with the flight officials on the landing fees being charged per flight.
President George Manneh Weah may not be aware of what led to KLM’s negotiation breaking down before pulling out.
Liberia is said to have the highest landing fees compared to Ghana and Sierra Leone despite its low flight intake.
Additionally the country has a very low passenger turnover, something which has discouraged many major airlines from flying this route despite its closed proximity to the Americas.
It could be recalled that Delta pulled out in 2014 during the early stages of the Ebola crisis here due to low passenger turnover.
Air France also left in 2014. Currently, only three airlines connect Liberia to Europe and America which include Kenya, Royal Air Morac and Brussels.
All of these three airlines have long layovers as compared to KLM.
There are reports that government has increased fare as a way of boosting its revenues with the Liberia Revenue Agency (LRA) taking 10% on every ticket sale, while 4.0% goes to the Airport Management.
A source told this paper that KLM was willing to negotiate terms but airport officials appeared not to have been interested.
Repeated calls and text messages to the Roberts International Airport (RIA) Managing Director Bako Freeman went unanswered.
The head of Finance Mr. George Youh also did not return calls and text messages sent to him on Sunday.
Experts are warning that Liberia may continue to lose major airlines because the airport remains in the hands of government instead of privatizing it to boost flights here with a good marketing and safety program.
“The airport is being run by the government, everyone there serves at the will and pleasure of the president so everything is politicized,” one source laments.
This paper observed that negotiators for airlines flying the route of Liberia are often between the government and the investors and therefore fees are discussed at that level.
With the pulling out of KLM and the increase in ticket fares, it is not clear if Liberians both home and abroad can get a better traveling deal. More to come.