Many airports lie dormant amidst huge government investment

| January 14, 2013 | 0 Comments

If you travel regularly by air across Nigeria’s major cities, especially through the local and international wings of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMA), Lagos, and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, you are likely to assume that volume of air travellers you see at these airports is a perfect representation of traffic at all the other airports around the country. How wrong you are!

Currently, there are 22 airports under the management of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). Of these 22, four are viable, nine are semi-active and the rest (also nine in number) are dormant in terms of revenue and traffic generation.
The four viable airports are the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMA) 1 2, Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja; Port-Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa and Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano.

Those termed semi-active include those in Benin, Calabar, Enugu, Jos, Owerri, Ilorin, Asaba, Maiduguri and Osubi while the dormant airports include those in Minna, Makurdi, Akure, Ibadan, Bauchi, Sokoto, Katsina, Kaduna and Yola.
In fact, it is no longer news that some of these airports are no longer viable as little or no flights are connected to them.  Airlines prefer to go to airports in cities like Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt or Owerri where they can get traffic.

Some of these airports either have one scheduled operation in a day or no flight at all. For instance, only Arik Air operates daily flights into Yola and Makurdi currently.
It is instructive to note that before the advent of Nigeria’s current democracy, there were no commercial activities in some of these airports.

Revenue, traffic generation
Of the 22 airports managed by FAAN, only four namely; Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt and Kano generate over 70 per cent of the authority’s revenue. A recent report compiled by Accenture lamented that despite the fact that three of them (Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt) generate much money, only a little development can be witnessed there.
“… and three of these airports—Lagos, Port-Harcourt and Abuja generate more than 70 percent of domestic and international traffic. All three airports are currently handling more passenger traffic than they were originally designed for”, it said.
Invariably, FAAN had hitherto used the funds generated from the four airports to finance the near-dormant ones. Records sourced by BusinessDay show that in 2004, for instance, FAAN spent N70 million on the development of Makurdi Airport while it (Makurdi Airport) only generated a paltry N1 million during the period.

In the same year, FAAN spent N90million on the development of Kaduna Airport, while the airport generated less than N10 million to the purse of the agency.
Between 1993 and 2009, Lagos airport recorded about 53,869,876 passengers; Abuja, 23, 520,700; Port Harcourt 9,443,069 and Kano 5,629,096. During the period under review airports such as Katsina recorded 65,524; Akure, 30,689; Minna, 64,924; Ibadan, 75,038; Ilorin, 145,371; Sokoto, 675,807; Yola, 34,668; Maiduguri, 1,320,149; Benin, 1,154,265; Calabar, 2,244,205; Enugu, 2,840,360; Jos, 1,100,679 passengers while Owerri Airport, which commenced operations in 1994 had 1,816,904 passenger traffic.

These figures confirm the fear expressed by stakeholders that most of the airports are not only unviable but cannot also generate money to continuously sustain themselves.
For instance, in the third quarter of 2012 according to FAAN quarterly traffic table, Lagos airport in terms of passenger traffic (domestic) recorded 1,137,547 while international wing recorded 758,740. Abuja airport domestic recorded 604,791 while its international wing recorded 224,866. Port Harcourt domestic traffic was 266,403 while 29,829 passengers passed through its international wing.

At Kano airport, 54, 161 traffic was recorded while 73, 823 passengers passed through its international wing.  During the same period, Enugu airport was closed to repairs between August and September but in July, it recorded 47,310 passengers.
Osubi airport recorded 63, 597, the domestic wing of Kaduna recorded 18,848, its international side recorded 1,072; Calabar had 46,894 for domestic while 31 international travellers passed through the airport.
Sokoto airport had 20,185 and 26,463 domestic and international respectively;   Benin had 47,236, Markurdi had 19,640 on the domestic wing and 9,350 domestic; Katsina had 221 in all; Akure had 832, Minna had 677 while Ibadan recorded 5, 667 passenger traffic while Ilorin recorded 6,991 among others.

Apart from Arik Air that can connect almost all the airports, Overland Airways operates flight operations linking Asaba, Ibadan, Ilorin and Warri from Lagos and Abuja.
Some airports do not have traffic figures as they were not captured in the FAAN table. For instance, the Bauchi Airport which is not captured is so open that Fulani herdsmen could stray into the runway because there is no perimeter fence.
During the run-up to last year’s general election, an aircraft conveying Nuhu Ribadu, Presidential candidate of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Fola Adeola his vice, ran into goats that roamed freely on the airside.
The airport does not only serve as a grazing ground, but also a converging point for commercial motorcycle operators.

It was learnt that sometimes when an aircraft is taxiing, it stops for some motorcyclists to leave the runway while at other times, Fulani men stand by the runway and wave at the pilot during takeoff or landing.
Despite their underutilisation, FAAN and other agencies maintain their staff and full-fledged departments in them.
“This is even when what the airports generate annually is insufficient for their maintenance”, an analyst lamented.

Analysts view
Some analysts are of the opinion that nothing can be done by government to improve the lot of airports except to leave them in the hands of private operators or reduce landing cost into them.
According to John Ojikutu, a retired airport commandant, those airports should be handed over to state governments or private investors for results.
He noted that for instance, FAAN level of personnel at dormant airports like Akure, Ibadan, Ilorin, Minna, Kaduna etc generally can’t be more than 50 for mainly security officers and commercial whose average salary can’t be more than N50,000 adding that Airspace Management Agency too will have same level of personnel; mainly Air traffic controllers and others probably less or not more than 10 and whose average salary can’t be more than N50,000 too.
“The average air traffic movement at these airports annually is as low as 1,000 to 2,000 and passenger traffic is about 5,000 annually. It would cost much to maintain each of those airports because revenue is limited to passenger service charge, landing and parking, concessions and rents.

“Also, the total revenue is far less than what government spends to maintain the airports. With the national economy gasping for breath always, government should hands off these unprofitable airports and hand them over to State governments or as concessions or outright sale to private investors under the Public Private Partnership arrangement”, he said.
Also speaking, Elaknem  Elkanem, chairman, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN), FAAN branch however disagreed that some airports are not viable adding that they all depend on one another to survive.
He however lamented that some of them sprang up as a result of politics.
“I know full well that Lagos, Kano, Port-Harcourt and Abuja generate a sizeable amount of revenue for government. The second class of airports is Enugu, Owerri, Calabar or Benin, they are medium-rated airports, they are just okay, they can generate revenue according to their sizes.

“And then you talk of airports that came whether the President is from there or for political reasons. They are classified as ‘white-elephant airports’. But the fact is that there is no airport that does not generate revenue. Let me tell you how it works. If you say Lagos airport generates revue, Lagos airport alone cannot generate revenue, flights have to depart to Sokoto or Ilorin or Abuja; those are feeder airports, without them flights cannot depart from Lagos.
“They are all important airports. But in terms of revenue optimisation and that is why government is trying to diversify. Now, we are talking of developing cargo airports; Ilorin has been designated a cargo airport where cargoes will be transported to other countries. Without them, there is hardly any way domestic operations can work.”
He explained that this is why the Business Development Department has just been established in FAAN.  He said the job of the department is to study the airports and do environmental analysis and see how the development can be factored in.
“There is the new Aero-tropolis concept that has been muted by the Minister of Aviation. This means that items that can be found in a town can be brought to the airport; you can do your shopping at airports even at cheaper rates, the items are generated in airports, instead of going to town; I have experienced it in Singapore. We are trying to evolve into those ventures to actualise the dream of Aero-tropolis. People can bring in business.
“But as at now, the dependency is on the viable airports which we believe that as time goes by, others will change. For instance, Calabar is designated ‘Tourist Airport’ which it is gradually turning into because from the 1st of December to January ending, you have large influx of traffic”, he said.

FAAN’s new plans
Yakubu Dati, general manager, public affairs of FAAN noted that government was not relenting in its plans to develop the airports. He said that rather than reduce landing cost into those airports as analysts suggested, there are plans to make many of them cargo and perishable goods airports that may eventually turn them to busier terminals.
“Some airports has been designated as cargo airports for the development and export of perishable goods. This is the plan for Kaduna, Ilorin, Ibadan, Enugu—to turn them into areas where goods can be exported from those terminals.
“This is being practiced in Israel where they have roses being exported from some terminals. That is what we are doing to areas that are known for agriculture; they will be developed in that line. The remodeling is coming with a lot of package; you will now have places for economic activities that are being added to the facilities.

“The removal of tariff on aircraft parts importation is part of government’s way of assisting airlines to open up routes. By the time the cost of operations is reduced, tickets will be cheaper, more people will travel—that is part of the intention of the intervention.
“That is why government is taking over the cost component. This area is a strategy that will eventually see most of the airports getting higher traffic because airlines will now fly there. What we are saying is that cargo airports may be busier than those bigger airports.
“Eventually, as we are stimulating economic activities rather than reducing cost, for how long shall we reduce landing cost? By the time we are through, five brand new airports will be built and in a few years, Nigeria will regain its lost glory in travel”, he said.

Sustenance of Aero-troplis concept
Ekanem explained further that the only problem that might militate against the Aero-tropolis concept is the inconsistency in policy making and implementation.
“But my fear is the sustenance of this laudable concept that is aimed at turning the lots of the airports around. You know the current Aviation Minister came from a private sector that is business driven. The moment she leaves, you may discover that the next Minister may not like the plan and that breaks it. But I think she had been able to raise the bar in aviation development and so far, she has been able to let Nigerians know that aviation business in Nigeria is not just imaginable but achievable”, he added.

Culled from :Here

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