- Rebuilding of the runway of São Tomé's only international airport are advancing rapidly, following a December threat by the Portuguese airliner TAP to cancel all flights to the archipelago by 13 January if standards did not improve. São Tomé and Príncipe managed to secure rapid funding from Taiwan to realise the repairs.
On 15 December, TAP made a public announcement that it would suspend it weekly flights to São Tomé and Príncipe by 13 January, if authorities by 12 January had not initiated "the necessary repair works of the paving of the local airport's runway, whose operability has severely aggravated." TAP quoted grave security concerns by its pilots.
The threat had an instant impact, as São Tomé is heavily dependent on the TAP flights. TAP currently offers the only intercontinental connection to São Tomé, with weekly flights to Lisbon. The only other international flights from the São Tomé airport go thrice weekly to Libreville (Gabon) - operated by Air São Tomé - and weekly to Luanda (Angola) and Accra (Ghana) - operated by TAAG Angolan Airlines.
Indeed, the small and poor two-island nation is currently experiencing a great increase in foreign arrivals. In addition to noting some successes in developing a promising tourism industry, São Tomé is about to develop an oil industry, resulting in a booming number of business flights to the main island.
Therefore, already ten days after the TAP ultimatum, São Tomé Public Works Minister Delfim Neves was able to announce that government had found a solution to the problem. Mr Neves said São Tomé had secured a US$ 900,000 donation from Taiwan to repair the damaged runway. The quick realisation of the emergency donation stems from the fact that São Tomé is one of very few nations to recognise Taiwan, putting it at loggerheads with mainland China.
According to Minister Neves, the Portuguese company Armando Cunha SA has already been appointed to carry out the repair works, following a public tender. Smaller works on the runway started on 22 December, while most materials only arrive the island during this and next week. The works are expected to be carried out "within 58 days," the government has announced.
The Minister further announced that the initiated works were to be part of a larger plan to modernise the São Tomé airport's structure. All together, authorities had budgeted investments of over US$ 4 million for airport improvements.
Also local residents agree that the island's international airport had been in a poor, if not embarrassing, shape. In addition to a war zone-looking runway, lacking fencing had led to many dangerous situations. On a regular basis, livestock, wild animals and local residents were observed walking around on the unprotected runway. Setting up a fence is one of the tasks now being realised.
The São Toméan government's quick response to the threatened flight cancellation did not fail to impress the TAP board of directors. "Under these circumstances, the company decides to maintain São Tomé operations beyond the date of 13 January, and has already reopened sales of flights after that date," a recent TAP communiqué said.
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