Liberia: Sports Park in Breach of International Aviation Standards – Could Lead to Spriggs Airport Shutdown

Monrovia — An investigation by FrontPageAfrica suggest that the construction of an Invincible Park within striking distance of the James Spriggs Payne Airport, which for years served as practice ground for President George Manneh Weah’s former football team, Invincible XI, aiming to include a modern Soccer Pitch, Basketball Court, Tennis Court, and playground for kids, is in clear breach of the guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The ICAO is the global body that creates regulations for aviation safety, security, efficiency and regularity and environmental protection. The organization also regulates operating practices and procedures covering the technical field of aviation.

The crux of the matter is that space on which the park is being constructed has been reserved for airport use. Over the years, previous governments had been randomly clearing the area and asking residents to encroach on or around the space because it is reserved for aborting planes taking off and landing.

During the ceremony last Tuesday, President Weah said as a public park, the facility will be freely accessible and available to anyone and everyone who seeks to use it. “Today has brought me yet another opportunity to share my dreams and aspirations for the happiness and well-being of our citizens, by providing modern recreational facilities that will contribute to their good health, wellbeing, and fitness,” the President said.

During the previous government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the space was cleared as the government put a stop to all sports activities in the area and cordoned off the area with fence wires to keep people off the area.

Shortly after the Weah administration took over, the fence was taken down and residents resumed using the space for football and other activities.

The FPA investigation found that the lack of compliance with the International Standards and Recommended Practices set by ICAO, of which Liberia is a member can result in Liberia losing its ICAO license; the airport losing its ICAO license; the Airport being charged heavy insurance fees and/or avoidable accidents and casualties.

Located five kilometers from downtown Monrovia, the James Spriggs Payne Airport is the primary aviation facility for the capital Monrovia and the entire country, as the the only other paved runway in Liberia and only other international commercial flights into and out of Liberia. The airport is named after James Spriggs Payne, who was president of Liberia in 1868-70 and again in 1876-78.

The Weah administration says the Invincible Park will not only be used as a sports center but also a recreational ground for leisure. The President is also reportedly taking on the project as a sign of appreciation to his former club, the Invincible Eleven, the team he played for before moving on to his semi-professional and professional football exploits that took him to AS Monaco, Paris St. Germain, AC Milan and a host of other international clubs, propelling him to become the best footballer in the world at the peak of his career.

Since the administration broke grounds on the project last week, many have been divided over the plan and members of the Senate last week voted against the construction.

The senators, during deliberations last Tuesday voted that the proposed sports park intended for Invincible Eleven Majesty Sports Association be halted immediately because the locality of the park is dangerous. The Senators argued that the site is unsafe, as crashing of planes could result to huge human causalities.

Several Crashes, Casualties Near Airport Since ’51

Since 1951, there have been at least five air crash incidents in Liberia and four near the Spriggs airport.

On July 25, 1996, a Weasua Air Transport Plane, Yakovlev Yak-40 also crashed.

Following an uneventful flight from Freetown, the three engine aircraft encountered windshear on final approach to Monrovia, lost height and struck the ground 5 metres before the runway threshold (0.8-1 meter below the runway elevation). The left main gear was torn off and the aircraft slid/rolled for about 300 metres before coming to rest. All 11 occupants escaped uninjured while the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.

The cause of that crash was cited as loss of control on short final after the aircraft encountered windshear.

On July 26, 1995, a Douglas DC-9 run by ADC airlines crashed near Spriggs.

The approach to Monrovia-James Spriggs Payne Airport was completed in poor weather conditions with a visibility limited due to heavy rain falls. On final, the aircraft struck the ground short of runway threshold, causing the undercarriage to be torn off. The aircraft slid on its belly for about 500 metres before coming to rest on the runway. All 91 occupants evacuated safely and the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.

Probable cause:

In poor weather conditions, the crew continued the approach below the minimum safe altitude until the aircraft impacted terrain short of runway threshold. The lack of visibility caused by the heavy rain falls remains a contributing factor, but the crew should have made the decision to initiate a go-around procedure since the landing was obviously missed.

On August 18, 1994, another ADC airline DC-9 flight crashed.

That aircraft departed Banjul, Gambia, on an international scheduled service to Lagos with intermediate stops in Freetown, Monrovia and Accra. The approach to Monrovia-James Spriggs Payne Airport runway 23 was completed in poor weather conditions with heavy rain falls. On final, at a distance of 4 km from the runway threshold, the captain confirmed that visual contact with the runway was established and continued the approach. At an excessive speed, the airplane passed over the runway threshold at a height of 150 feet and landed too far down the runway, about 3,000 feet past its threshold. On a wet runway surface, despite full brakes and reverse thrusts were deployed, the aircraft could not be stopped within the remaining distance. It overran at a speed of 80 knots and came to rest 120 metres further, bursting into flames. All 85 occupants were rescued, among them few were slightly injured. The aircraft was destroyed by fire.

The cause of the crash was blamed on wrong approach configuration on part of the crew who completed the approach at an excessive speed and well above the glide, causing the aircraft to land too far down runway 23 which is 1,800 metres long. Poor braking action due to wet runway surface was considered as a contributing factor as well as the fact that the crew failed to initiate a go-around procedure as the landing maneuver was obviously missed.

On Nov 7, 1989, a Weasuah Airliner, Britten-Norman Islander, crashed.

The twin engine aircraft departed Monrovia-James Spriggs Payne Airport on a schedule flight to Freetown-Lungi Airport, carrying nine passengers and one pilot. After takeoff, while in initial climb, the pilot informed ATC about an engine failure and elected to return for an emergency landing. When he realized he could not make it, he attempted to land in an open field. Upon landing, the aircraft lost its undercarriage and crashed. The pilot and one passenger were killed while eight other occupants were injured. Engine failure during initial climb for unknown reasons was blamed for that crash.

Crashes Near Airport Space Not a Rare

Crashes within the vicinity of airport are not unusual for Liberia.

On Feb 11, 2013, a Casa-Nurtania CN-235 operated by the Gunean Air Force crashed near the Roberts International Airport.

The aircraft was carrying an official delegation of senior officials of the Guinea Air Force to Monrovia. On final approach to Roberts Airport, aircraft crashed in a wooded area located near Charlesville, some four km short of runway. All 11 occupants were killed and aircraft was totally destroyed by impact forces and post impact fire. Among the passengers was General Souleymane Kéléfa Diallo, Guinea army chief of staff. Delegation was flying to Monrovia to take part to the celebration of the Liberia Army forces anniversary.

In July 2013, the investigation board confirmed that the accident resulted of multiple errors committed by the pilots who did not carry sufficient attention to the flight and the landing procedure. Investigators also concluded that the flight crew was tired, which was considered as a contributory factor because his faculties and capacities were reduced.

Similarly, on Feb 15, 2002, an Antonov /AN-12, operated by Tiramavia crashed, killing on seven persons on board. On approach to Monrovia, crew informed ATC about technical problems. Pilots eventually made an emergency landing in a field 11 km from runway. A crew member was killed while the aircraft was destroyed.

On March 23, 2001, a Boeing 707 non-chartered revenue flight managed by Luxor Air crashed killing everyone on board.

On August 10, 1999, a Cessna 414 Chancellor operated by Gibalco Air Services crashed near the RIA.

The twin engine aircraft departed Harper on a charter flight to Monrovia, carrying five police officers and one pilot. On a night approach to Monrovia-Roberts Airport, the aircraft crashed in unknown circumstances 4 km short of runway. The aircraft was destroyed and all six occupants were killed.

On December 2, 1993, a Short SC.7 Skyvan Variant crashed in Vahun, Lofa County. On final approach to Vahun Airfield, at a height of 40 feet and at a speed of 77 knots, the twin engine aircraft adopted a high sink rate. The captain increased engine power when the aircraft rolled to the right, collided with trees and crashed few hundred metres short of runway. All 13 occupants were rescued and the aircraft was destroyed.

On Feb 5, 1991, an Antonov AN-12 managed by Air Guinea, carrying 65 passengers crashed near the RIA as it was approaching Monrovia-Roberts Airport for unknown reasons. All 72 occupants were rescued and the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.

What do the ICAO Standards Says?

Amid the wave of crashes in Liberia’s recent history, the ICAO list of standards clearly defines several safety issues to prevent crashes from occurring in airport space.

Section 3.5.1 of the Annex 14 to the ICAO convention insists that airport runway end safety areas be provided at each end of a runway strip. The standards state hat a runway end safety area shall extend from the end of a runway strip to a distance of at least 90 meters. “If an arresting system is installed, the above length may be reduced, based on the design specification of the system, subject to acceptance by the State.”

The standards insists that the runway end safety area be as far as practicable and extend from the end of a runway strip to a distance of at least: 240 meters or a reduced length when an arresting system is installed.

The ICAO further recommends that the width of a runway end safety area should, wherever practicable, be equal to that of the graded portion of the associated runway strip, which is why the space now being used as a sports park poses serious risks to safety of air travelers.

Regarding objects on runway end safety areas, the ICAO regulations says object situated on a runway end safety area which may endanger aeroplanes should be regarded as an obstacle and should, as far as practicable, be removed.

The ICAO standards are clear that a runway end safety area should provide a cleared and graded area for aeroplanes which the runway is intended to serve in the event of an aeroplane undershooting or overrunning the runway. “The surface of the ground in the runway end safety area does not need to be prepared to the same quality as the runway strip.”