Excerpt of the interview with the Angolan Minister of Aviation on the New International Airport of Luanda
There’s a trial flight for Friday. What does it mean for the country?
Friday we have two important moments. One on the occasion of the celebration of the birth anniversary of Dr. António Agostinho Neto, first President of the Republic of Angola and Father of our State, unique and indivisible. We will designate the airport, placing the bust of Dr. António Agostinho Neto and also the sign with the name of the airport – Dr. Antonio Agostinho Neto. At the same time, within the scope of the airport certification process, there is a need to start with the experimental flights and the first experimental flight will take place (Friday) within the scope of this certification process. Throughout this certification process, more flights will take place. In fact, they’ve already started. They are not news per se, because they are even flights of a technical nature, for observation, approach, readings, missions… finalization of the airport operation.
How long does this take?
Generally, the certification period for a new airport can take between 12 and 18 months, because an airport is an infrastructure, perhaps one of the most complex in terms of services, because there are several specialties, be it meteorology, navigation, navigation support, air traffic support, whether on land, all the ground support that needs to exist, where the critical factors of the certification process, the luggage system itself, so that people actually receive their luggage when they arrive or she transitions to another plane correctly, therefore, without fail. This is one of the most complex systems to manage, in addition to all the systems that we don’t see inside an airport, from energy, water, plumbing, drainage system… Therefore, there are a set of fundamental aspects that are tested during a long period of time, to ensure that when the airport is certified, it can operate with all the rules, procedures and operating manuals without any risk.
Is risk something permanent at airports?
One of the critical factors in this business is precisely to avoid security risks. And everything can become a security risk: the passage, boarding and disembarkation system, if the security rules are properly tuned, if the protection and video surveillance system works permanently, without any interruption, without any failure, if the teams are trained to move people within an infrastructure of that size… Therefore, we are talking about something very complex to manage, because it manages equipment, infrastructure, people, technology. Here, there is a wealth of multidisciplinary issues that involve several sectors. They do not exclusively involve the Transport sector and this experimental flight exercise has already been created. That spirit, shall we say, of great cooperation, integration of different sectors, from the National Police, to Civil Protection technicians, meteorology, Air Force, energy specialists, water specialists, the technological part is also associated…
As a general rule, is the passenger most interested in their trip?
But there is a set of teams here that have to be permanently present at the airport, in coordination, so that the operation is accurate. We are used to traveling and when we do, we don’t realize that, when a plane lands, it is a process in itself that has to be strictly followed, so that in X time the passenger passes the migration service, arrives at the conveyor belt of luggage and collect the luggage, go through an X-ray, if you have to, to visualize the luggage… So, until he reaches the street or the terminal area, already out of all this process, there is a set of activities here that people do not realize, but that there are a number of people to take care of them and that guarantee total safety to the passenger and their goods. So, it’s a very interesting issue and I think it’s a topic that should be explored, to have an idea that airport certification is not exactly such an easy subject. For example, one of the critical issues for the certification of an airport of this nature is to have redundancy in all the systems that we have, of energy supply, water supply, all part of the technological infrastructure. We cannot fail to have light for a second. There is no time to have electricity or water failures, because an airport cannot have this type of difficulty.
How far have we come in terms of infrastructure execution, for certification?
As for the certification process, the work has to reach a point of maturity, where the installed systems can begin to be tested. We already have a high level of execution, on the order of 63 or 66 percent. It is time to start testing certain systems and even testing so that we can either correct or redo in advance, ensuring that we are within the standards required internationally by the international civil aviation authority. Therefore, the time is right now to start the certification process. This experimental flight step in the take-off and landing component is a first step that is being taken. But there are other systems that are already being tested: macro-drainage, energy systems, there are things that people don’t see, but that happen.
When we talk about maiden flight it means…
It’s not maiden flight. It is important that we correct this maiden flight idea. Inaugural flight is when the airport is properly certified, the plane lands with passengers. Passengers disembark and make their way inside the airport. This is not a maiden flight, this is an experimental flight. Incidentally, the flight itself does not carry passengers. It only takes the crew, so that the plane lands on the longest runway, where the planes must land, and does the landing process. All these elements that are now part of this certification process are elements that, in practice, will feed studies on the airport itself. Therefore, this first flight will have a characteristic that the next one will no longer have. This one will be daytime and the next one will be nighttime, because the daytime landing characteristics are different from the nighttime ones. We’re going to take off at night and then we’re going to take off during the day. There are steps in this process, to reach a point where all these elements manage to feed us enough information to say, with certainty, that 99.99%, that there is no risk of doing this, of doing that, the procedure this is the procedure, this is the procedure… Therefore, this is what this phase of certification and testing of all the infrastructure elements, the equipment is for, has to do with a guarantee that 90 percent of what is there it works flawlessly if a set of procedures is followed.
What expectations for the fulfillment of this phase?
Our expectation is that we have the Dr. António Agostinho Neto open, certified at the end of 2023. Then, yes, we will be able to make the inaugural flight: land a plane, passengers leave, passengers enter… Same process, in the various stages. Afterwards, too, they must be made with the actors at the airport. Therefore, the airport, “per se”, is just an infrastructure. But the airport needs passengers to function, passengers need to have airlines, airlines need to have their flight plans, their commercial plans adjusted. what is the infrastructure where they go. Therefore, we will arrive at a time in this certification process when we are going to tell the airlines that from date X onwards, flights will not be for the 4th of February, but for the Dr. António Agostinho Neto. But this will happen with enough advance notice, at least one quarter, for the airlines to reorganize their flight schedules. and that, but this is already another phase that has nothing to do with certification. Certification is a process of experimenting with what are the infrastructures, services and equipment that are installed at the airport, ga ensuring that this experimentation results in procedure manuals that say that 99.9 percent of what you can do at the airport is risk-free. So, that is what is intended. Basically, that’s what you want for certification. And in this context we are indeed trying – and we have started to work with this focus now – because the certification process could take place after the work was completed. We are trying to complete the whole part of the cons-
most important civil construction for the life of the airport in the first quarter of 2023, and we could start certification there. Now, this would lead to the availability of the new airport for 2024. We intend to do so in 2023. Therefore, by the end of 2023 we intend to have the airport already serving airlines, passengers with another comfort, with another capacity.
How can we access the new airport?
A complementary theme to an infrastructure of this magnitude is also that of accessibility. How people will arrive at the airport, in what conditions they will arrive, how long will they arrive, are issues that also arise from the construction of an infrastructure of this nature. We basically have, at the level of the Transport sector, a project that competes to guarantee a quick accessibility to the new airport, which is the project for the second line of the Luanda Railway, which has a branch that connects to the airport terminal, a project that includes the construction of five stations along the line and the start-up of railcars in Luanda , which we are still going to do this year, now, in the next few weeks. This project is in progress and has an execution level of around 48 percent and we are convinced that very close to the time of entry into operation, or shortly before the airport starts operating, they will be completed from the rail point of view.
Will they be normal or fast services?
It is a fast service with specific equipment, which are railcars, which are a kind of light rail service, which are not heavy locomotives. Therefore, it is a lighter rail service, precisely for the intercity and urban service.
For when these railcars?
It’s all working. The railcars will start operating in July 2022. These railcars then take passengers to the new airport.
It said there are other improvements to be made…
On the road side, we have improvements to be made on the road that leaves Largo da Independência to Viana and goes to Estada Nacional 260 (EN 260). These are improvements assigned to the Ministry of Public Works, Spatial Planning and Urbanism and are in progress, and the second circular road in the city of Luanda will start, which will create the radials for the new international airport. Therefore, we are going to create here several ways to get to the new airport, so that in a time not much longer than an hour we can get to and from the airport in perfect safety and tranquility.
In principle, what are the main branches we have to get to the airport?
We have a road that works. We can get to the airport from Largo da Independência; we have some complex sections, often deprived by the behavior of the drivers themselves. We have to see how we can better educate our drivers, because sudden lane changes, public transport, the absence of dedicated public transport lanes end up creating some disturbance, which even produces traffic flow. That’s what’s critical. Therefore, we must have a reasonable speed average, so as not to waste too much time. It is often difficult precisely because of these erratic behaviors of our drivers. So, we have the road that leaves Largo da Independência and arrives at the new airport; we have Avenida Fidel de Castro, for those coming from Benfica, Talatona, Cacuaco you can get to the new airport easily. And within the areas closest to the new airport, whether Kilamba or Zango, there is that facility of Fidel de Castro. We are convinced that with the improvement of the existing accessibilities that are in progress and with the construction of the second ring road and its radials, life will be easier there, because we also have some traffic that enters the city of Luanda, mainly freight and uses urban roads, because there is no way to get through Luanda without entering the city. Therefore, this is one of the factors being considered by the Ministry of Public Works.
What is the geographic landscape of the New Luanda International Airport, commonly known as NAIL?
The new Dr. António Agostinho Neto is located at a distance of 42 kilometers from the city center of Luanda, the airport polygon occupies an area of 75 square kilometers, quite vast, where the airport infrastructure was built, either the air side or the earth, this terminology is important to be able to distinguish what happens on one side and what happens on the other.
And then we have the perimeter of the fencing of this infrastructure, on the air side and then, also, the adjacent area, on the land side. In this area on the land side, we also have some buildings to support the airport’s activity and also for some companies in the sector. Therefore, we will have the headquarters of the National Civil Aviation Authority there, we will also have the facilities for the National Air Navigation Company – ENNA, we will also have the facilities of the Sociedade Gestora dos Aeroportos (SGA), which will also have a building to accommodate. In addition to specific facilities for the forces of Public Order and Security throughout that territory.
We also have, in the infrastructures to support the activities of the airport, areas that concern the support activity, either for the part of the equipment, or a building for the Catering (supply of food and meals), or for the airport, for companies. And then, an area that we intend to develop, in terms of aircraft maintenance, an airport with a Hangar, with the capacity to provide maintenance services, either to the national airline or to other foreign companies. Then we have an airline where the Cargo Terminal is, because with the airport located there, we believe that one of the factors also contributing to the growth and diversification of revenues, both for the airline and for the management of the airport, has to do with cargo. When we talk about the Luanda hub, we cannot look at it exclusively from a passenger perspective. We have to think from a perspective of cargo, of logistics. This airport has conditions to be an integral part of this strategy.
Then there’s another set of infrastructure. Obviously, I did not mention the fire-fighting infrastructure, etc., which are fundamental obligations for airport certification. Therefore, one of the critical factors for airport certification is the fire rescue system, which is a specific area that is planned and that is practically completed.
Then we have a set of spaces, which we intend to attract the Private sector for its construction, on the one hand, or for its management, because we still have a hotel within the airport infrastructure. There is a hotel there for passengers in transit, who arrive or who, for whatever reason, have to stay overnight at the airport. There is a hotel there, which will serve these passengers. But this hotel is small, it has more than 50 rooms and the idea was then to develop a set of hotel infrastructures, services, restaurants, bars, etc.
This part is related to the development that we will soon propose to the Executive, the approval of the Master Plan for the Airport City of Icolo e Bengo, where we will develop the city as a whole, which will evolve in phases, taking advantage, in a initial phase, of all the airport’s potential, much more oriented towards the logistical components, cargo and commercial services of this nature and then develop the entire infrastructure apparatus for residences, parks, etc. Therefore, we have a very important infrastructure to support the diversification of our economy.
As you know, airports are designed for a life span of 50 to 70 years. We are convinced that we have to look at this new airport as an infrastructure with such longevity and envision that it will, in fact, be able to reach a level of operation within the limits for which it was designed today and go beyond, allowing for the expansion of the airport itself.
Currently, this airport is designed for 15 million passengers, of which 10 million are of international origin and 5 million are domestic. Therefore, it can be expanded to double this capacity, so there are conditions for its expansion. But first, we need to reach these capacity limits.