Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Posted By: Nomonanoto Sidama | At: 4/20/2016 10:02:00 AM
It is rare to see private individuals intrude on an official function where dignitaries deliver a series of speeches, uninterrupted, at grand inauguration of public projects. But that was what Jemal Adem, 42, did on the morning of April 16, 2016, in the presence of officials from the Hawassa City Administration and federal officials of the civil aviation sector. A farmer in nearby village of Wondo Genet, 25Km north of Hawassa, Jemal interjected from the background of a tent with a thunderous voice unmistakably drawing attention to his message.
He had waved a number of air tickets up in the air, and expressed his delight at being able to get, what to him, is a lifetime opportunity of boarding an airplane.
“Praise be to the Lord,” he declared, loudly. “Our country has developed, and I have lived long enough to see an aircraft land in our town.”
The 15 tickets he had displayed are some of the over 60 sold last week by Ethiopian Airlines to mark the start of the first commercial flight in what is perhaps shortest route anywhere. The median flight piloted by Zerihun Kebede made it to Hawassa on Saturday, carrying over 40 passengers in about half an hour. The flight was too short for the cabin crew to complete serving refreshment before the plane touched down on the newly completed runway of 3.1Km that morning.
Ethiopian was greeted by thousands of curious, if not excited, residents of this southern city and farmers from Meqbassa Qorkie village of Dori Wereda, where the future airport is to be built. They chanted with exhilaration, and their amusement at seeing an aircraft within a couple of metres was evident in their looks. Jemal, pushing his seventh child, four-year old Kemal, through the crowd, felt privileged to have got aboard flight ET-154 on its return to Addis Abeba the same afternoon. He was not alone.
He spent a little over 10,000 Br to let his entire family, his parents, his brother and a friend join him in the flight, thus sharing the excitement of flying. None of Jemal’s family members has been to Addis Abeba before.
“I don’t let this opportunity pass any of us,” he said. “It is what we all will tell and retell to our children and friends the rest of our lives.”
But they are bound to see more arrivals and departures of aeroplanes in the years to come. Last week, Ethiopian Airlines announced the start of weekly flights to the southern capital of Hawassa, following the completion of the runway costing the Ethiopian Airports Enterprise no less than half a billion Birr. It was one of the three runways the Enterprise contracted out for construction in December 2014, at a total cost of 1.37 billion Br.
YOTEK Construction Plc signed the deal to complete the runway of Hawassa Airport within two years, while Akir Construction was awarded the contract for Robe Goba and the state-owned Ethiopian Roads Construction Corporation took the job for Shire, farther up north, in Tigray.
“We’ve not only completed the project in time, but also within budget,” Yohannes Teklay, CEO of YOTEK, told Fortune.
Although the original project cost was agreed at 457 million Br, a later addition of five kilometres to the runway in order to land Boeing made jets increased the cost further to 503 million Br, according to those close to the project. Now up to three Boeing jets, including the Boeing 777, can taxi on the apron.
A three-hour drive from Addis Abeba, the city of Hawassa is known for premier resorts on the highway and is itself a tourist hotspot. With a population of less than 300,000, the city prides itself for successively winning recognition from federal authorities as the fastest developing city in the country. It is a gateway to wilderness and the indigenous peoples and cultures of the south of the nation.
The latest development in Hawassa, however, with the industrial park development underway and expected to open for business this year, has caused completion of the project to be expedited way before its original schedule, according to Yohannes. Originally planned to be completed in February of this year, the industrial park in Hawassa is thought to be a game changer once it is up and running. Under construction by the China Civil Engineering Corporation (CCECC), for 246 million dollars, the park lies on a 100ha of land near the entrance of the city, and comprises 35 factory sheds and 19 buildings.
Global companies in garment and apparel industry, such as the US Van Heusen (PVH) – owner of popular brands such as Tony Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Vanity Fair – Indian apparel maker, Raymond Group and Arvind Ltd. as well as other big companies from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Hong Kong and China, have reportedly shown strong interest to open their shops in the park.
“All these have their senior executives who would rather fly for a quick visit instead of spending hours being driven to and from Hawassa,” said a businessman aboard ET-154 on Saturday.
What would be an international airport in Hawassa is the 29th airport for the Enterprise, while the runway there is the second for YOTEK to build after another 2.1Km runway in Kombolcha, near the town of Dessie. It is one of the over 15 projects the company is undertaking currently, including the construction of intercity asphalt roads inside Hawassa, stretching over 30Km.
YOTEK is yet to lay close to five kilometres of asphalt road connecting the airport with the city. However, the city lies 20Km away from the airport, where the municipality has to pay for the construction of the remaining segment of the road.
On Saturday, passengers had to drive on a dusty 13Km road to the city, juggling through farm lands alongside Lake Hawassa. In the absence of a passenger terminal, air traffic control tower, and runway lighting system, the airport has a long way before it gets a resemblance of a fully functioning airport. What has so far been a project office for YOTEK will soon turn to serve as a temporary passenger terminal, where local civil aviation officials and Ethiopian Airlines staff will begin to process the passengers’ manifesto and check-ins. The absence of any other physical mark makes the runway the most visible object, alien to its surroundings west of Lake Hawassa.
Nonetheless, the jubilation Jemal and other residents displayed shows they are ready to embrace life with the constant noise and sight of ET-154 landing and taking off from the runway opened for traffic last week.