Saturday, October 30, 2010

Robertsfield, Recently and More Recently

To finish off the recent posts about flying to Monrovia, there is a bit more to say about Roberts International Airport, Monrovia's and Liberia's main international gateway.

I've discussed previously how Pan American World Airways was integral in RIA's history, and how Monrovia was important in that airline's history in Africa from World War II until its withdrawal from Africa in the late 1980s, just prior to its demise in 1991.

Roberts International Airport is now operated under contract by another venerable American firm, Lockheed Martin, and has improved significantly in the years that I have been flying there. However, it remains a tiny facility, really only handful of small rooms, from the check-in hall, to the security area, to the departure lounge; the baggage claim hall, with its single, elderly luggage belt. In fact, the first time I landed in Liberia, I looked out the window and, seeing the collection of low structures at the edge of the tarmac, assumed that the terminal must be on the other side of the runway. But no, that was the terminal.

There is a much larger structure at the landside of RIA, seen in the center of the top picture. Although I have no official or definitive reporting, I've been told that this was the Pan American Terminal, and the main terminal facility for the airport during its golden age, when KLM, British Airways, British Caledonian, Swissair, SAS, and Sabena, among others, ran weekly services from Europe to or through Liberia. Monrovia, like other West African airports, was also a stop on the Europe-to-South American runs. This was the case in Liberia's worst aviation disaster, when a Brazil-bound VARIG DC-10 from Rome crashed on arrival in 1967.

The building, like the rest of the capital's infrastructure, was totally ruined during the war. Below is a picture taken by a US Air Force officer in 1997.

I'm only sorry that I thus far haven't come across any pictures from RIA's busiest period, to see just what the terminal looked like when brand-new. I'm sure that there are some out there in the Liberian community, not to mention Pan Am's archives in Miami. Today, the structure remains vacant, and shrouded in a gigantic Lonestar banner advert. However, the so-called "Old KLM Terminal" which connects to it, is looking spiffy as a VIP terminal used by the President and International celebrities (you can see it at center left of the top photo, complete with KLM blue roof trim).

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