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Gateway cargo airport targets flight operations, agro-export in Dec

By Wole Oyebade
08 July 2022   |   2:43 am
About 17 years wait for a regional agro-export aerodrome in Ogun State is set to be over as the Gateway Agro Cargo International Airport now warms up for flight operations

Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Abdulwaheed Odusile (right); his Works and Infrastructure counterpart, Ade Akinsanya and Senior Project Manager, Craneburg Construction, Nicholas Mfarrej, during the inspection tour of the Gateway Agro Cargo International Airport, Ilisan, Ogun State, recently

State dismisses viability concerns, hinges economic drive on new aerotropolis

About 17 years wait for a regional agro-export aerodrome in Ogun State is set to be over as the Gateway Agro Cargo International Airport now warms up for flight operations, in December, and full commercial services, early 2023.

The ambitious project, sitting on 5000 hectares of land in the agrarian and industrial hub of the South-west region, promises to receive the first set of flights, processing facilities, ancillary private investments and services by year-end.

The optimism, as expressed by state officials during an inspection tour of the facility recently, was not unconnected with the pace of work by Craneburg Construction firm, and investors’ enthusiasm to complement air transport infrastructure.

Besides the expansive 3.8km runway that is 90 per cent ready as at last Wednesday, work on the five-storey control tower, administrative building and fire station is ongoing, with the twin terminals for cargo and passenger set to begin next week.

Barring any shift in timelines, the multi-billion naira facility will hold one of the fastest-built airport records in the country – that is, about 19 months from start to finish. The State government said that the new facility promises far more to the local and regional economy despite viability concerns.

A long wait amid viability doubts

It will be recalled that the Gbenga Daniel’s administration conceived the Gateway Agro-Cargo Airport located at Ilisan in the Ikenne Local Government Area of the state in 2005. His successor in office, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, in 2015 initiated a plan to build another cargo airport at Imosan Village, Wasimi, Ewekoro Local Government. Neither of the two administrations matched words with action on the projects.

Besides the confusion of one-state two airport-site conundrum, the projects were coming at a time when state-owned airports have credibility doubts, given the near-endless work on the white-elephant and its unviability to operators and the local economy.

Indeed, only very few airports nationwide have sufficient passenger and cargo traffic year-round to cover the cost of operations.

Some state governments that had the luxury of building an airport even transferred ownership to the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to defray humongous debts to aviation service providers and escape routine yearly votes to keep the underutilised facility running.

Airport is good, aerotropolis better
Not unmindful of those concerns, The Guardian learnt that the Gateway Agro Cargo International Airport project was designed to offer a different narrative as part of the current administration’s socio-economic and infrastructural development plan for the State.

State Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Abdulwaheed Odusile, said the intentional facility was unique given the pace of project execution, quality of delivery, its public-private sector-driven investment initiative and the waiting markets to serve.

Odusile, on the tour of the facility, noted that the Governor Dapo Abiodun administration made a commitment to complete all abandoned projects insofar they would yield the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the state.

“This International Cargo Airport is one of them and by the grace of God, before the end of this year, aircraft will take-off and land here. That is what the indicators are showing now. And this will be the first of its kind in the country,” Odusile said.

He noted that the project was part of the administration’s five pillars of development, code-named: ISEYA – an acronym for Infrastructure, Social welfare and wellbeing, Education, Youth Empowerment and Job creation, Agriculture and food security.

“We are not just building an airport; we are building an aerotropolis. Ours is an investment hub for businesses, besides cargo and passenger air transport. Already, a lot of agencies of government and private sectors are scrambling to be here. There will be an international agro-processing centre of the AfDB here, where all agro-produce will be certified before export,” Odusile said.

Indeed, there is a sense focusing more on agro-export as a potential non-oil mainstay of the economy. Nigeria is indeed blessed with year-round arable food crops that are now equivalent to crude oil in the global market.

Already, no fewer than 22 non-oil products have been pencilled in the new export promotion programme of the Federal Government. The initiative is part of the zero-oil plan currently implemented by the Nigeria Export Promotion Council in collaboration with the private sector, and estimated to be worth over $150 billion in yearly export value at full capacity.

Among the products are palm oil, cashew, cocoa, soya beans, rubber, rice, petrochemical, leather, ginger, cotton and Shea butter, tomato, banana and plantain, cassava, cowpeas, and spices, some of which are cultivated in the region.

“So, such goods coming in and out of our neighbouring states will come here and this will also decongest Lagos. This facility will spread development across the country, especially for us in Ogun State and His Excellency’s agenda to further industrialise the state.

“We claim, and rightly so, to be the industrial capital of Nigeria. We want to use this airport to complement that. This airport is also an important component of our transportation master-plan, which will bring together rail, road and water transportation,” Odusile said.

Open for business
Ogun State Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Ade Akinsanya, added that the strategic location of the Class E facility was strategic to its economic goals. The team, Akinsanya noted, learnt valuable lessons from the chaotic Lagos Airport, therefore, opening six access routes into the new facility.

“On the west-end of the airport is the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, while the Sagamu–Benin Expressway is on the south. That is central to the entire region. Note that Lagos is too crowded as it is. The cargo operators are not having a good time; the passengers also are complaining. So, this will be a relief to everyone. Passengers can land here and be in Lagos within 30 minutes and for those going to the east, they can land here and be anywhere within a few hours. So, the basis for viability is its best location and it will be a big relief for Lagos,” Akinsanya said.

He said further that the runway was built to land wide-body aircraft models like Airbus 350 and Boeing 777, with an apron wide enough to accommodate four aircraft at a go.

“Right now, we are at about 90 per cent completion for the runway and the runway would have been completed by the end of July. I don’t think any airport can rival it anywhere within this country and the facility is unique.

“The standards we are meeting are world-class. The terminals – one for passengers and the other for cargo – are a hybrid of what they have in Morocco and a bit of Paris, in France. It is a work of art. The same thing also with the control tower – it is something unique,” Akinsanya said.

Senior project manager, Craneburg construction company, Nicholas Mfarrej, reckoned that the project would be completed before the end of this year, including the runway, fire station, control tower, taxiway, apron and the cargo terminal buildings.