|Operation South Sudan Out Of Juba Airport.|
Since South Sudan gained independence from the North in July 2011, more than 200000 desperate refugees have fled from the fighting in Sudan to the new state in the south. Security is also an issue and the swamps and boggy terrain created by the rainy season make everything difficult.
Aircraft are the only practical way to travel any distance and safely in South Sudan, the new nation’s capital at Juba is the focus on these activities.
Juba Airport was undergoing a huge refurbishment during my recent visit. However, the single 7500-foot ( 2 286-metre) tarmac runway (13/13) is arguably one of the most important strategic assets in the new South Sudan .For this reason it is heavily guarded by troops of the new Peoples Republic of South Sudan, and remains closed under a curfew between dusk and dawn.
This concentrates aerial activity and the current airport civil engineering work on the new aprons/ramps, freight sheds, hotel and terminal building, to daylight hours. The country is under the rule of President Salva Kiir and he and his government’s ministers have allegedly drained the state coffers dry.
Then there is the oil in the north of the country and the conflict with the Sudanese to the north who have closed the strategic oil export pipeline that runs from the oil fields in northern South Sudan, and through Sudan to the Red Sea port of Port Sudan for export-about 350000 barrels a day until the pipeline was closed.
For two decades there has been civil war in this part of Sudan with an estimated two million people killed. Cynically one might say this is a typical African scenario, but with the added “spice” of black gold.However, there is now a peace accord in place which is the foundation that eventually led to the independence of South Sudan in July 2011.
This independence meant the establishment of a six-mile demilitarized zone along parts of the disputed border between the two countries. Within this region is the oil-rich Heglig where law and order is virtually non-existant and Heglig is just one of five oil-rich regions along this 1200 mile border which has to be protected and policed.
Immediately you arrive at Juba Airport the cosmopolitan specters of the faces you see are startling. The tall, slender forms of the South Sudanese(many from the north of the old Sudan and of Ethiopian origin) ,darkest of dark-skinned Africans from South Central Africa, the Europeans with their pale white complexions ( could be Germans, Russians or British) ,the Chinese with their classic characteristics and the Japanese ,often only distinguishable from the Chinese when they talk.
With this mixture of nationalities you immediately ask the question: “Why are they all here?.” The answer is the case of businessmen and engineers is almost inevitably “oil” –in the case of others it is to provide humanitarian aid and economic advice and assistance, plus the framework under which all this activity can proceed, security.
In an aviation context the above activity at Juba Airport provides an amazing mixture of aircraft operations which can be loosely split in to four recognizable categories.
The United Nations in many guises is present in South Sudan as a peace keeping force, but also to provide a assistance with economic development projects using both fixed-and rotary –wing aircraft.
Then there are multitude of aid agencies such as Missions Aviation Fellowship,Medicins Sans Frontiers, Medical Corps, SIM Sudan, Oxfam ,Save the Children Fund (SCF) ,IMA World Health, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), etc all of which fly smaller ,commuter-type aircraft to the remote parts of northern South Sudan about 200 miles away.
Next there are the equipment and supplies flights carrying anything from oil rigs and core drill bits to arms to equip the resurgent South Sudanese army.
Finally there are the military flights of the newly formed SPLA ( Sudan Peoples Liberation Army) flying a tranche of Mil Mi-17 helicopters supplied by Kazan Helicopters in Russia.
There are, of course ,scheduled flights to and from Juba, linking it with Addis Ababa ,the capital of Ethiopia and less regular ones to Kampala (via Entebbe airport) the capital of Uganda, about 300 miles to the south.
The Ministry of Transport of the Republic of South Sudan advertised in the ‘West ‘ during November for tenders for international consultancy companies wishing to provide a business plan and the expertise to advise on the establishment of a ‘national airline’ and of public air transport scheduled air services within and from South Sudan.
The results will not bear fruit until well into this year, but in the meantime Vista Georgia, an airline based in the Republic of Georgia ( in the former USSR ) is providing one of the Boeing 737-300s on contract to the nations ‘national airline’ provisionally called Feeder Airlines and with the aircraft named The Pride of South Sudan.
The primary route operated by Feeder Airlines is from Juba to Khartoum (capital of Sudan) and to Addis Ababa (capital of neighbouring Ethiopia) .Also operating here is Nova Airlines, originally a Khartoum based airline, but currently using a Bombardier CRJ-100 (on lease from Jet link Express, in Nairobi, Kenya) plus two CRJ-200ERs.
Scheduled air services to a wider range of International destinations may well emanate from the current deliberations, a more regular service to Entebbe (Uganda) being one of the priorities.
There have been a variety of airlifts of displaced refugees, the largest in June 2012 when a variety of airlines were chartered to fly 13000 refugees who had been stranded in the Kosti region of Sudan. They were transported by road to safety in Khartoum and then air-lifted to Juba.
Since South Sudan got independence in July 2012 all the OLS (Operations Lifeline Sudan) ,NGOs moved to Juba and this made air transport for humanitarian aid and relief supplies flights more affordable. Most of the private charter companies moved their base from Lokichogio Kenya as it was the hub for all flights into and out of South Sudan. This made even private charter flights cheaper as aircraft were based in Juba and also some airlines introduced daily scheduled passenger and cargo flights to Juba to feed the charter companies and airlines at Juba with connecting passengers and cargo to remote areas in South Sudan.
Anthony A Juma is the Editor and Director Commercial & Flights Operations at Wings Over Africa Aviation Limited.
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