ACCRA - He is a firefighter who battled raging forest fires in British Columbia before becoming Accra’s fire chief, so Charles Hanson Adu is well-equipped to handle Ghana’s hottest potato and biggest project in decades.
Adu headed the operations for the breathtaking new $275 million Terminal 3 at Kotoka International Airport, a project that has transformed and reinvigorated the proud west African nation.
The ultra-modern Terminal 3, with its plush arrivals and departures halls, business lounges, retail spaces and state-of-the-art equipment, was opened on 15 September 2018 and at its height will be able to handle five million passengers a year.
As Group Executive of Airports Management for the Ghana Airports Company Limited (GACL), the buck for the success, or failure, of the project stopped with Adu.
“This was a big monster. It was the biggest terminal project we’ve had to deal with in terms of size and scale. Previously we’ve needed to expand and upgrade terminals, but setting up a completely brand new terminal, which you needed to move people into, intensely train and ensure it operated well, was a completely different challenge,” Adu said in an interview at the GACL’s Accra offices, alongside the Head of Kotoka International Airport Benjamin Ahlijah.
Adu’s been with the GACL since 2001. In the stifling Accra heat and given the volatility of the pressure of the enormous task he needed to spearhead, Adu’s a cool, unflappable customer, qualities he badly needed since the start of the Terminal 3 project in 2014.
“Moving into an airport terminal is not like moving into a new home. And while building and operationalising the new Terminal 3, we still needed to keep the old Terminal 2 fully operational. The issue was keeping your eye on the daily operations, as well as simultaneously on the construction of the new terminal.
"We still needed to run the aiport and people could easily be side-tracked and completely absorbed in the Terminal 3 operations,” said Adu. “The entire concept of Terminal 3 was also completely different from the old
terminal, not only physically, but in terms of the high-tech technology we were putting in. The toughest thing was getting 1,000 people to move in the same direction daily, ensuring construction stayed on track, while also getting to grips with the use of the equipment, the new ground handling procedures, eye validation, immigration and customs processes and using aero bridges in Ghana for the very first time.
"The people side of the project was the toughest thing to get right, getting people to migrate, to change their way of thinking, and the countless meetings and discussions needed to achieve this,” added Adu.
For such an important national project, the tough taskmaster chose a novel approach. He let go a little, while keeping a tight hold on the reins. “We needed to ensure it was not seen as a Ghana Airports Company project. We
billed it as a project for all Ghanaians to own, particularly those working on the project. We needed to relinquish some level of control. It’s an ego thing. But as a result, everyone felt some level of ownership. Right from the outset, from the design stage already, all stakeholders were involved and had a say. Lots of orientation and new ways of doing things were introduced. It’s a journey that took everything out of us, but one we’re extremely proud of,” said Adu.
Fortunately, the Ghanaians had partners who knew how to navigate such a massive project and for whom commissioning an airport terminal of such scale was not virgin territory. The GACL entered into a five-year technical and airport management co-operation agreement with the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) that started on 1 March 2014 and will end on 28 February 2019.
ACSA, with its track record of delivering and maintaining South Africa’s major international airports, provided technical advisory services during the construction, by some of Turkey’s finest infrastructure experts, of Terminal 3.
The dozen-strong ACSA team also provided operational readiness and airport transfer assessment for Terminal 3, a key requirement before an airport terminal is commissioned.
Other areas of close co-operation between GACL and ACSA were in the areas of aviation services, airport operations, commercial services, aviation security and professional services in line with ACSA’s strategic pillars to run and develop airports globally and to grow its increasing international footprint as a world airports company leader.
ACSA have now shared their airport expertise in Sao Paolo, Brazil, as well as in Mozambique and Zambia and they are currently assisting with the construction of a new terminal in Liberia’s capital Monrovia.
For the Ghanaians, the best practice collaboration with South Africa’s airports specialists was a crucial and powerful symbol of African collaboration and expertise on a crucial continental project Ghana hopes will entrench it as West Africa’s key aviation hub
Especially important was ACSA’s hands-on support during the 38 simulations exercises and 41 "live" flights that took place before Terminal 3 was officially commissioned and opened in mid-September.
“In working with ACSA we were looking for somebody who has been there before. If you’re using textbooks and research, you’re limited in your reality. There’s a difference between education and exposure, they’re not the same. You can get somebody who is very educated, but who has not been exposed to the unique challenges we faced. That’s a big deal. In ACSA we were dealing with people who have fallen before, dusted themselves off and got back up. We were learning from their mistakes. That’s the biggest aspect ACSA brought on board.
"They brought not just knowledge, but experience. And through this project we’ve created relationships between us Ghanaians and South Africans that will last forever, that goes far beyond our two institutions. It’s got to the point where we see them as fellow Ghanaians,” said Adu.
– African News Agency (ANA)
* Jermaine Craig was in Accra courtesy of the Airports Company of South Africa