Saturday, 9th December 2023

Foreign airlines shun $100m MMIA terminal over parking space

By Wole Oyebade
06 May 2022   |   3:02 am
About two months after it opened amid glitz and glamour, the new ultra-modern terminal at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) has failed to draw foreign airlines’ patronage.

*Ramp not sufficient for wide-body aircraft
*We are correcting design errors, management says

About two months after it opened amid glitz and glamour, the new ultra-modern terminal at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) has failed to draw foreign airlines’ patronage.

Murtala Muhammed International Airport

The facility’s rejection, estimated to cost $100 million, and arguably the most beautiful interior in Nigerian aviation, is not unconnected with its apron space constraint for operating aeroplanes to park.

Currently, only Nigeria’s flag carrier, Air Peace, has migrated operations from the old international terminal to the new one. Ghana’s African World Airline (AWA) and Togolese Asky have expressed interest to migrate too.

However, dominant airlines like British Airways, United Airlines, Air France-KLM, Emirates, Lufthansa, Qatar, Ethiopia, Etihad and Kenya Airways have declined offers to move into the new facility that promises a world-class customer experience.

The Head of Operations of one of the airlines told The Guardian that the new edifice conveniently supports their ongoing effort to overhaul customer experience.

“We were happy to see LOS open the most befitting international terminal. It is good and very beautiful. We have plans for our own lounge experience, but our big aircraft still come close just yet.

“They (FAAN) want us to move in immediately. We want to go too because it is a lot better than the old terminal. But we have to tell them no. The terminal is very beautiful but not ready for use. We fly triple-seven and 330s. When you have good space for aircraft, we will be glad to come and use the beautiful terminal,” he said.

Most foreign carriers traditionally operate wide-body airliners, some of which (especially B777) are 73.9 metres long, with a sprawling wingspan average of 62.8 metres. They require a large ramp area for parking and manoeuvring with a limited risk of clipping wings.

Defective design
Recall that the Goodluck Jonathan administration approved the construction of four new terminals for Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano airports in a 2013 China and Nigeria loan deal, worth $500 million. The projects were handled by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) in conjunction with the Ministry of Aviation and ought to have been delivered in March 2015.

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had in 2016 faulted the location of the Lagos and Abuja terminals, describing them as wrongly positioned.

Sirika, who was short of describing the projects as a waste, said the new terminal in Abuja alone cost an extra N5 billion to relocate the control tower and fire station that were erstwhile blocked by the terminal. The same terminal in Lagos also got in the way of power cables that service the entire airport.

Apparently wrongly located and donned a flawed design standard, the Lagos terminal is built on approximately 56,000 square metres, but in-between the Seymour Aviation Car Park on the right, and private hangers on the left, allowing only a narrow path for aircraft to access its fingers.

Former Secretary-General of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Olayinka Abioye, said aviation workers were not involved in the planning and execution of the project, as it was strictly a direct contract between the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Aviation and the CCECC.

“The contract was signed on behalf of Nigeria by a former minister now a senator (Stella Oduah) and the Government of the People’s Republic of China.

“If workers had been involved, several discrepancies noted would never have happened. You must have heard of errors of building on the sewage systems, over electrical cables, buildings that blocked the Control Towers and so forth because there was no direct supervision from FAAN or its agents. How can a terminal exist without space for aircraft to turn around?” Abioye queried.

He added that aviation unions are highly embarrassed by this development, yet took solace in the fact that they were not involved, otherwise “heads would have rolled”.

Buy space, not time
The primary concern for the unions is getting the current administration to clear the mess and not pass it on to another.

Already, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has issued eviction notices to hangars and occupants of buildings near the terminal. Marked for demolition are Accident Investigation Bureau Nigeria’s (AIB-N), Lagos Annex, hangars like Dominion, Evergreen Apples Nigeria (EAN), Caverton and ExecuJet and others.

Former Commandant of the Lagos Airport in the 90s, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), noted that the minister was warned about the defect in July 2018.

“He initially planned the opening of the terminal for November 2018 and I said to him it was not possible because there were no apron provisions for aircraft parking. It was then the idea of evicting aviation agencies and hangars began. How much has been done before the opening of the terminal? Practically nothing,” Ojikutu said.

An aviation stakeholder, who preferred anonymity, said Nigeria has become the butt of global aviation jokes, and the minister should stop glossing over the problem.

“How does one explain that Nigeria’s best airport project is not good enough for world standards? We borrowed to build a terminal and parking space is an afterthought? Common! We should be ashamed as a country. I know we have always demonstrated incompetence, but this one shocked me to the marrow.

“It was clear that there would be space constraints before the terminal was even built. You can’t just situate a terminal anywhere you like. What is wrong with us as a people? To even think that the president inaugurated that flawed infrastructure and he has not deemed it fit to hold officials accountable? We should bury our heads in shame,” he said.

A top official at FAAN, however, said that the “set-back” is temporary as all efforts were on to correct the defects.

“I can assure you that you will soon see the foreign airlines facilitating passengers from the new terminal. Some of them have expressed interest. The design was neither approved by FAAN nor this government, but it is a burden we have to shoulder and we are already doing that,” she said.

Looking at the brighter side
But what the terminal lacks on the outside, it possesses within in anticipation of projected 14 million passenger traffic yearly. To complement the beautiful edifice are its five baggage collection carousels, 16 immigration desks at arrival, 28 immigration desks at departure, eight security screening points, and six-passenger boarding bridges (out of which two have already been installed). Others are two food courts, four premium lounges, 22 guest rooms and spa, 16 airline ticketing offices, visa on arrival and port health facility, as well as a praying area, more than 3,000 square metres of duty-free space, approximately 5,000 square metres of lettable utility space, among others.

Travel consultant, Ikechi Uko, said the country has an airport that it desperately needs to use anyway.

“There are apron buses to be used to ferry people from the remote parking space to and from the new terminal. There are six or more avio-bridges at the D-wing that can accommodate the big birds when they come. We can upgrade the D-wing, which is linked by a Skybridge already.

So, the argument of parking space should not be our problem now,” Uko said.