AddisFortune : By TAMRAT G. GIORGIS
The US Air Force is upgrading Arba Minch Airport, which serves as a domestic airport in Southern Regional State, after signing an agreement with the Ethiopian government, in November 2010, reliable diplomatic sources disclosed to Fortune.
Located five kilometres from the town’s centre, the airport first become operational in November 1998. It has a runway dimension of 2,800 metres by 45 metres, but lacks crucial facilities such as fire fighting equipment, aeronautical MET, and air traffic services are not available. However, it can land aircraft the size of a Boeing 737.
The US Air Force is extending the runway and upgrading the airport to international standards with modern facilities, according to these diplomatic sources. When completed, the upgraded airport, one of 12 airports in Ethiopia of which four are international, will have the capacity to land a Boeing C-17 Globemaster, a large military transport aircraft that has been developed for the US Air Force since the beginning of the 1980s.
No official statement was made from either side about why the US Air Force is spending tens of millions of dollars to upgrade the airport in Arba Minch, located 505km south of Addis Abeba.
However, the area holds regional military strategic importance for the US due to the high threat of terrorism in neighbouring Somalia and a concern for possible regional instability following the expected independence of Southern Sudan, the diplomatic sources told Fortune.
The mobilisation of construction materials and clearing the area of wild bushes by Orchids Construction, a subcontracted local construction firm, was underway last week. Heavy-duty graders and four excavators were unearthing the area near the airport, while 20 Nissan Diesel (UD) trucks could be seen carrying mounds earth out of the project compound.
A mountain of wood, piled up after clearing from the construction site, has been visible on the opposite side of the airport’s gates, according to eye witnesses in the town Fortune spoke to. The project site is under heavy military guard, with US troops seen patrolling the area, according to these eye witnesses.
The project, estimated to cost not more than 50 million dollars, will be good for the economy of the area that is known as a tourist destination. At the time of writing, all the rooms at Paradise Lodge, a private lodge, were rented out to expatriates working on the project, while the lodge is extending its 18 tukul rooms and facilities with new constructions underway, according to residents in Arba Minch.