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Concerns as fleet size, traffic surge outgrow infrastructure

By Wole Oyebade
26 November 2021   |   2:57 am
Local aviation sector may not reap the full benefits of new investments and surge in passenger traffic if it continues to ignore yawning gaps in airport infrastructure.

Passenger demand surges by 50%

Local aviation sector may not reap the full benefits of new investments and surge in passenger traffic if it continues to ignore yawning gaps in airport infrastructure.

Aviation stakeholders, who gave this warning on the heels of a good outing witnessed by local airlines at the recent Dubai Airshow, said operators, are only as efficient and profitable as the system allows them.

They said despite ongoing efforts to concession the four big airports for efficiency, the aviation authorities should continue to improve on basic infrastructure to improve passenger facilitation and turnaround time, especially as the festive peak period approaches.

Starting from a recent upsurge in passenger traffic in the first half of 2021, two local airlines recently placed orders for new fleets worth $1.2 billion.

Akwa Ibom State-owned carrier, Ibom Air, tabled an ambitious request for 10 brand new Airbus 200-300 aircraft. At a market price of $90.5 per aircraft, the bid is worth about $905 million in total.

Similarly, Overland Airways placed a firm order for three new Embraer E175 regional jets, plus rights for the purchase of another three. If all purchase rights are exercised, the deal is worth $299.4 million at list prices.

An airline Chief Operating Officer told The Guardian that the local carriers had made Nigeria proud with the “strategic investments” and worth “compensating” by the authorities.

“Following in the footsteps of Air Peace, they (Ibom and Overland) have gone for efficient narrow-body aircraft that can fit well into our environment and dominate the region. This is fantastic. But my worry is this, add Iboms’ 10 aircraft to Overland’s three or six and Air Peace’s 13, you have at least 26 brand new aircraft that is added to over 50 already in operation. Is the airport expanding its hold areas to accommodate all of them?

“That is where the ‘compensation comes in. The operators have done very well and the government should complement this effort with better infrastructure. It makes no sense to keep having multiple airports that close operations at 5:30 pm daily when air travel is just reaching its peak globally. Air Peace terminal in Lagos still has just one boarding gate to serve its multiple aircraft. That is room for flight delays every day and aircraft under-utilisation. So, let the authorities’ reason along with the operators and get serious with their statutory duties,” he said.

Secretary-General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said the civil aviation rules are clear on the airport development programme, which includes the expansion of passengers’ terminal buildings, passengers’ holding areas before departure and arrival, car parks, shuttle bus services between terminals, hold or checked-in baggage, cargo warehouses, and check-in counter.

Ojikutu said if the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had implemented the maintenance and development programmes as approved by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), then questions on infrastructural gaps would not arise.

“The questions we should ask are: when was the last time the NCAA performed an audit on the FAAN maintenance and development programme? More airlines are springing up and the older ones are buying more aircraft, what development is there for the improvement or expansion of the terminal aprons that will accommodate these new airplanes? The passengers and air traffic have only improved above 2020, not the traffic of 2019 and those before it.

“However, before the COVID-19 and now, how many of the domestic airlines are meeting their financial obligations to the service providers that include FAAN? Let us hope that after the concessions given by the government to airlines on some statutory economic charges, they will not only meet their regular financial but clear the debts of over N22 billion owed to the aviation government agencies,” Ojikutu intoned.

Meanwhile, pandemic traffic demand is beginning to look up in the records of FAAN. It showed about 50 per cent surge in the first six months of 2021, compared with 2020 figures.

Passengers Traffic Statistics Report showed that a total of 5,513,098 domestic and 907,722 international passengers travelled in the period under review.

Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, processed the highest number of international travellers with 670,938 passengers, followed by Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja with 225,985 in the first half of 2021.

NAIA Abuja, however, topped the chart for domestic air travellers with 1,974,249 passengers, closely followed by Lagos airport with 1,786,236. Others are Port Harcourt 377,679 passengers; Enugu 231,669; Kano 225,870.

The report showed that the duo of Lagos and Abuja airports accounted for 3,760,485 out of a total of 5,513,098 or 68.2 per cent of all domestic arrivals and departures, and 896,923 out of a total of 907,722 or 98.8 per cent of all international passengers.