Affected by the volcanic eruption of 2002, Goma Airport is finally regaining its international standard thanks to the rehabilitation of its runway and control tower by the Chinese company China First Highway Engineering Co. By Gael Mpoyo (The Museba Project).
Goma International Airport is ranked among the most dangerous in the world. It is framed on one side by the active volcano Nyiragongo, the natural gas-rich Lake Kivu, and in the middle by the city of Goma.
Several crashes have already been recorded in the region. The most recent is the crash of the Busy Bée company aircraft on November 24, 2019 in Goma in the Mapendo district of Birere. The toll was heavy: 29 bodies recovered from the crash site and 1 survivor, according to the team of the National Border Hygiene Program (PNHF) in the DRC.
Since the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in January 2002, hardened lava has reduced the runway at this airport to just over 1,400 meters, posing a landing hazard for aircraft. But this track has recently resumed its initial length of 3,000 meters after clearing and reconstruction work carried out by the Chinese company, China First Highway Engineering Co. (CFHEC).
It is 9 a.m. in the city of Goma, capital of the province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). People come and go outside the airport entrance and exit gate.
Annette Kabuo, bistro owner, sells cheeses. She says, smiling, that the resumption of airport infrastructure activities is a relief for low-income earners like her. Our life totally depends on it, she says. With the flow of passengers coming from all over the world, we manage to sell our products and make a profit.
Near her, a porter on duty notes that as the number of thefts increases after the works, new jobs have been created. We have enough to meet our vital needs thanks to these jobs, says Jean Claude Ndoole.
Like Annette and Jean Claude, several people manage to make ends meet by carrying out various lucrative activities at the airport. Because of the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano which paralyzed a third of the economic fabric of the city of Goma, they had lost all hope of finding their daily sustenance. The renovation of Goma Airport constitutes a socio-economic and even cultural boost not only for the city but also for the whole country with commercial exchanges taking place from one province to another.
Sifa Bolingo knows something about it. This trader buys bags of beans, maize, potatoes, and vegetables in North Kivu to resell them in other provinces across the country. The increase in cargo planes facilitates our business operations, says Sifa.
The story of Goma Airport's renovation begins in September 2014 when the Congolese government sent a request to the World Bank for funds. On April 2, 2015, the two parties signed a donation agreement of US$52 million. This followed the implementation of the evaluation document of the project to improve the security of this airport in September of the same year. But it would be four years later that the work would be launched.
Indeed, the Chinese company China First Highway Engineering Co (CFHEC) chosen by the Congolese government began its work on March 6, 2019 with the rehabilitation and extension of the tarmac parking area for about US$3.7 million. The tarmac was increased from 16,000 square meters to 24,000 square meters, an extension of 8,000 square meters giving the airport the capacity to accommodate seven Airbus A320 aircraft.
Contacted by the reporter for The Museba Project, the Chinese company declined to comment.
After the passage of the lava on the runway, it was difficult to carry out traffic in an optimal manner and to think about expanding the aeronautical arsenal, we were at one aircraft, we are now at three, including a freighter for facilitate the transport of goods, says Mr Ted, pilot and owner of an airline company.
In March 2020, CFHEC began work to extend the 3,000 meter long airstrip before the volcanic eruption of January 17, 2002. After this accident, the runway lost at least 1,532 meters, half ravaged by 200,000 cubic meters of lava. In July of the same year, a completely renovated track was handed over to the Congolese authorities, who did not hide their satisfaction.
We noted that the Chinese company is working hard to respect the delivery time of the work, on the side of the track, major transformations are visible, indicates Memba Barnabé, coordinator of the cell of execution of the multimodal transport project and the security improvement project at Goma Airport.
This observation follows a visit carried out on July 10, 2019, which allowed the teams of the Multimodal Transport Project Implementation Unit and the Goma Airport Security Improvement Project (CEPTM-PASAG) as well as of the Interplan control mission to assess the level of execution of the earthworks and levelling on the extension of the tarmac part at Goma airport, says Memba Bernabé.
He continues: The jackhammer and the loader shovel, which overlook the large construction site and which were clearly visible from afar, are working to dig up the lava to allow the rehabilitation of this track in its total length estimated at 3,000 meters.
For the moment, says Kasongo Janvier, an expert in civil aeronautics and member of the Fédération des Entreprises du Congo (FEC) in North Kivu, this airport has regained its image of yesteryear and it respects the principles of modernity of the Organization of International Civil Aviation.
Chinese experts from CFHEC told the commander of the Régie des Voies Aériennes (RVA) of North Kivu that the building meets international safety and security standards. For Delphin Musole, the agents and executives of the airport must ensure the maintenance of this space to bring more visitors to the DRC.
The reporter noted that other works by CFHEC such as runway lighting and the construction of an ultra-modern control tower have enabled the airport to accommodate aircraft day and night. And that RVA executives and agents have been trained.
The police, meanwhile, have been retrained and equipped with the necessary instruments for the detection of dangerous objects. A car park has been set up to increase the revenue from the airport, ranked third nationally behind the airports of Ndjili in Kinshasa and Luano in Lubumbashi.
At least three international airlines are currently operating at Goma Airport. These are Ethiopian Airways, Rwandair and Jambo Jet from Kenya.
The Director General of the RVA, Alphonse Shungu, reveals that the CFHEC, which carried out the bulk of the work alongside other experts, is a company governed by Chinese law which employs nationals residing in the localities where its sites are located.
CFHEC was selected through a closed invitation to tender by the CEPTM Multimodal Transport Project Execution Unit, on behalf of the RVA, for its serious commitment and the quality of its expertise and compliance with contracts. This company was already present in the DRC mining sector and the construction of the border posts of Kasindi and Bunagana, indicated Alphonse Shungu.
Goma Airport, the only one in the state's tourist-oriented city, underwent several improvements before reaching its current form, according to its commander. The first initiative, continued Delphin Musole, was that of the colonial administration which, in 1919, built an unpaved dirt track on which planes were to land.
In 1964, the track received asphalt 1,800 meters in length which allowed DC3 and DC4 type aircraft to operate on the airfield. The capacity for large aircraft commenced after the extension of the runway to 2,200m. This airport was to be built in Rutshuru territory located 72 km northeast of the city of Goma, but following the conservation of the flora and fauna of the Virunga National Park, it was finally erected in Goma where the construction work was conducted by the French company DUMEZ BATINGOLE. It became an international airport in 1978.
The eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano, whose lava consumed at least 40% of the airport, remains the only natural disaster to have affected this airport since its creation, we learned.