New MMIA Terminal: Design flaws leave $100m ‘beauty’ deserted, grossly underutilised
In 2013, the construction of a new passenger terminal at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), among four others nationwide, was planned as a befitting replacement for the aging MMIA. Nothing prepared the project’s duration of 12 to 18 months for a 10-year delay, and its eventual completion this year. But seven months after it was officially opened to the world as one of the best airport terminals on the continent, unpardonable design flaws and inadequate provision for aircraft parking space have continued to rain on its parade.
WOLE OYEBADE writes that besides the low patronage afflicting the facility, the defects constitute points of concern between the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and foreign airlines.
One of the legacies of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government that is currently being catalogued to be showcased at the administration’s twilight carnival, in 2023, is the new terminal at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos. Indeed, it is one of the administration’s best infrastructural masterpieces, though at face value.
At the official opening of the state-of-the-art facility in March this year, President Buhari said the facility was a befitting replacement for the 44-year-old eye-sore, which the erstwhile MMIA terminal had become.
In fact, Buhari described it as the most suitable gateway into Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria.
Seven months after that colourful inauguration, the facility has remained largely deserted, and grossly underutilised, as most operating carriers have shunned calls for their relocation to the facility.
A recent visit by The Guardian showed that only three international airlines currently use the sprawling edifice. Over 20 other airlines, especially the legacy carriers, still stay off the alluring splendor despite entreaties and subtle threats by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
While foreign carriers have not discountenanced in-built modern accessories made for top-of-the-range customer experience, the problem, some stakeholders point out, is that the terminal location is an architectural flaw. Ab initio, it lacks the right packing space for wide-body aircraft that are common in international operations.
Further inquiries showed that the terminal valued at $100m is laced with even weightier concerns, just as the authorities are working, though haphazardly, to manage glaring defects within a new-found aerotropolis drive of the current administration.
A Masterpiece That Is Worth The Wait
AVIATION in Nigeria has rarely had it so good in terms of modern infrastructure and good customer experience. The international terminals, until recently, were primitive, deprived of functional airport amenities, largely dysfunctional, and most stressful for users. The Guide to Sleeping in Airport Survey routinely ranked international airports in the country as some of the worst in the world.
But changing that narrative in Abuja, Port Harcourt, and lately, Lagos, are the new international terminals conceived under a $500m loan deal between Nigeria, and China in 2013.
As part of the arrangement, China was to make available, the sum of $400m at a 2.5 per cent interest rate, while the Nigerian government was to pay a counterpart fee of $100m for the project that was meant to run between 12 to 18 months.
At the opening of the Lagos facility last March, the alluring aesthetics and in-built facilities were a good riposte for the long wait and yearnings of modern air travellers. For instance, the 2022 Global Passenger Survey (GPS) conducted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), had customers demanding airports and airlines to simplify the travelling process and make convenience the top priority.
IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety, and Security, Nick Careen, noted that travel during COVID-19 was complex, cumbersome, and time-consuming due to government-imposed travel requirements. “Post-pandemic, passengers want improved convenience throughout their trip. Digitisation and the use of biometrics to speed up the travel journey is the key,” Careen said.
The MMIA new terminal did fit those descriptions of technology-enhanced facilitation space, comfort, and real convenience for air travellers. Covering a landmass of approximately 56, 000 square metres, the terminal has 66 check-in counters to process 14 million passengers yearly.
Other facilities there include five baggage collection carousels, 16 immigration desks at arrival, 28 immigration desks at departure, eight security screening points, six-passenger boarding bridges, 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.
Beautiful, Yet Deserted
CONTRARY to what many believe should be the case, a visit to the terminal last week showed largely empty areas and sections under lock and key. Seats in open areas are powdery suggesting that they had not been used in months. The officials, though dutiful, were lounging and confirmed having little to do after the afternoon belt, unlike the chaotic old terminal that is busy round the clock.
The Guardian observed that Air Peace, Asky, and African World Airline (AWA) currently have a presence in the terminal. Air Peace shifted its international hub to the new facility last April, where it operates its international (Dubai, Johannesburg, and Beijing) and regional flights. AWA, it was learnt, also processes Accra passengers from the facility, while Togolese Asky recently joined the fray.
Worried by the gross underutilisation of such a critical national asset, the Managing Director of FAAN, Captain Rabiu Yadudu, on a recent tour of the facility, alongside the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, confirmed that arrangements had been concluded to move five carriers into the facility on September 1, 2022.
Yadudu said that about eight carriers indicated an interest in moving into it, and five have been cleared, putting into consideration many parameters.
“I would like us to understand that aviation is a very sensitive subject. We would rather take our time than start on the wrong footing. But that does not mean that nothing is being done. From September 1, five more airlines are scheduled to start operations from the new terminal. The network and integration that ought to be done took time. More than eight showed interest and five are starting soon,” he said.
But as of last week, nothing has changed in the number of airlines using the facility. An official said: “We have an average of five to eight passenger facilitation (flights) per day. It is not much compared to the old facility that has over 40 flights daily. Big carriers have shown interest and already have office spaces, but they are still working on other details,” she said.
The “big boys” like British Airways, United Airlines, Air France-KLM, Emirates, Lufthansa, Qatar, Ethiopia, Etihad, and Kenya Airways that fly wide-body aircraft allegedly declined offers to move into the new facility despite its world-class customer experience.
The Tee-shaped facility has a tail area surrounded by seven aircraft-boarding fingers (three on the front side and four behind). The major challenge is aircraft manoeuvring to reach the exterior that has four fingers.
The country manager of one of the airlines who craved anonymity confirmed that the new terminal is light years better compared to the old one, but for its “lack of good space for aircraft to manoeuvre.
“The airlines that currently use the facility fly narrow-body aircraft that can safely taxi to the terminal wings. Most of us fly A320s, A330s, Boeing 737s, and 777s and can get into trouble around the facility. Safety is a priority for everyone, and we all have our standard operating procedures.
“Some of us complained to the service providers since the beginning, and I believe that they are working on expanding the apron space to admit wide bodies. Not only to park for boarding, we also need good space to make turns without clipping wings,” the manager quipped.
WHAT the airline operator did mention, but in passing, is that the new facility has been a design suspect since the current administration inherited it from its predecessor.
It would be recalled that the National Assembly’s Joint Committee on Aviation, while on an oversight function, in November 2017, said that it was impressed with the level of work done by the Chinese construction giant, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), concluding that the facility was 80 per cent ready and should open by 2018.
An official of CCECC had replied that the terminal would be ready by February 2018, “barring shortage in power and water supply.”
Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, did clear the air on the contractor’s allusion when he publicly faulted the positioning of the new terminals (in Abuja and Lagos), describing them as wrongly placed.
Sirika, who was short of describing the terminal investments as a waste of funds, said the project in Abuja alone would require the sum of N5b to sort out the mess created by the wrong location.
The Abuja terminal was designed to block the control tower and fire service station. Similarly, that of Lagos obstructed the power cables that supply electricity to the existing international terminal. In fact, the MMIA recorded several power outages in 2017, all of which the FAAN blamed on construction activities at the new terminal.
However, Sirika said: “Because it (Abuja terminal) has been built, we need to knock down the N3b control tower and also knock down the fire station, which will cost about N2b. The same thing with the one in Lagos that is sitting on heavy cables. If I have that $500m, I will use it to develop the Murtala Muhammed Airport as a hub of aviation in Nigeria and West Africa.”
Findings by The Guardian revealed that the execution plan of the project was the sole initiative of the then Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, and some consultants. Oduah allegedly bypassed the FAAN in the design and its implementation.
Oduah was later fired by President Goodluck Jonathan, in 2014, over her alleged involvement in a bullet-proof car scandal worth N255m, among other scandals that violated Public Procurement and Appropriation Act.
Sources within the authority told The Guardian: “Perhaps, the then FAAN MD knew about the project, but no one else in FAAN was aware of it. Just like members of the public, we all heard and saw that they were building new terminals. So, your question of who designed such an incoherent structure should not be directed to FAAN.
“What I know is that the whole project, though a good one, is already a mess. We may not get to use it the way such deals are used. A whole lot of under-the-table dealings are not made open by this government because the joke is really on us. It is more or less what to do with it- to pull it down, or continue to amend the defects?”
A travel expert with a background in civil engineering, Sunday Olumegbon, said it was clear that the positioning of the facility was not well-thought-out.
Olumegbon said: “First, how on earth did we agree to build a new terminal that is far away from the old one and has no provision for aircraft parking space? Are the two terminals in conflict? There is a similar problem between the international and the domestic terminals. To date, we have not been able to build a mono-rail facility to link the two like they do in other parts of the world. It shocked me that we made the same mistake with the new terminal. You have seen Emirates Airport in Dubai. It has three terminals that are all beautifully synced. Bole International in Addis Ababa also recently opened its expanded wing. It is the same terminal. Gatwick Airport in London is the same. Why is ours different, and we are expecting foreign airlines to use it?
“Second, the new terminal was approved with the new car park (Seymour Multi-layer facility) almost at the same time, too close to one another, and by the same administration. Who does that? Bringing a landside facility (car park) too close to the airside (new terminal) is a security risk in clear sight. FAAN and NCAA have their engineers who know all these. Is it that they were not consulted?
“Now, the new facility has two major space constraints. On the east is the new car park that belongs to a concessionaire protecting the interest of a former minister of aviation, and on the west are aviation offices that are now being demolished to make space for aircraft. It is lamentable, for want of a better word. Ours is a country where anything goes within the government circle. It is sad that we brought that arbitrariness into aviation and are now settling for ad-hoc measures to save face in an international airport that has a masterplan,” Olumegbon said.
Demolition To Cost N10b In Compensation
THE FAAN had issued eviction notices to hangars and structure occupants close to the MMIA’s new terminal, even as such action is expected to cost the government up to N10b in compensation.
The demolition exercise, which is to make way for aircraft parking space at the terminal, will affect offices, including the Accident Investigation Bureau Nigeria (AIB-N), Dominion, Evergreen Apples Nigeria (EAN), Caverton and ExecuJet hangars who have all been served eviction notices.
Also affected are the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA); the Federal Road Service Corps (FRSC), and towing companies close to the AIB-N Regional Headquarters.
To date, only the AIB-N office has been demolished. A conservative estimate offered that the demolished regional headquarters and its Command and Control Centre are worth N5b.
The Secretary General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), observed that a lot of unilateral decisions were taken on the airport’s terminal building by Oduah, outside of the standard, professional advice, and approval of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
As the way forward, Ojikutu said if it is true that N5b is needed as compensation for the car park and the hangers, “I think FAAN can conveniently pay them off within a year to create sanity around the new terminal building.
“The car park is more of a security risk to the terminal building than the hangars that are marked for demolition. The question to ask the operator of the car park and the NCAA is, ‘is there any security programme approved for the operations of the car park?’ I doubt it.
“My estimated revenue earnings for FAAN from its projected international passengers and air traffic is sufficient for FAAN to conveniently pay the N5b to the car park and the owners of the hangars to avoid the security risk and lack of aircraft parking space,” he said.
Foreign Airlines Must Use Our Facility – FAAN
DESPITE ongoing efforts to clean up the mess, Yadudu is disappointed that the new terminal is still unoccupied by airlines that need it the most.
He reiterated that the terminal remains open, but for the necessary operational transfer from the old to a new facility.
“We (FAAN) decided to start moving in phases. We didn’t want everyone to move at the same time. If you remember, when Terminal 5 opened in London, it took others about six months because of some teething problems. It is only here that people complain about such things. Nowhere in the world will you have a perfect system. No airport operates in isolation from its environment. The aviation industry keeps evolving; when challenges crop up, they are tackled immediately,” Yadudu stated while noting that, “no airport system will want to relocate to a new terminal and move everybody at a go; the system will crash. We have sent two airlines there, and the other ones will follow. I told them to move only the airlines that operate morning and afternoon flights so that we will decongest the old terminal gradually.
“Unfortunately, some of them (foreign airlines) said they would not move, and we are not ready to compel them yet. But you cannot be a client of FAAN and dictate to us. When the time comes, they must all move. Those that refuse to move want to put us in a bad light – of not having a good terminal, which is not true. You were complaining about the broken facilities and the baggage handling system (in the old facility). Now, we have provided you with a new one, but you have refused to move. Global aviation is all about national interest. Unfortunately, Nigerians are joining them to condemn our industry,” he said.
On security concerns, Yadudu said all security issues were been addressed, including the recent events of a mangled body on the runway and a stowaway caught in a local airline.
“The government’s protocols and due process matter in all we do. A private airport can have a problem today and by tomorrow a solution to the problem has been found. We know the solutions to our problems, but we have to ensure that due process is followed. Additional issues arise when you have to import the (solution) equipment. There are manufacturing, shipping, and other processes to follow. All of these may take you up to a year.
“We started the procurement of a total surveillance security system and the minister of aviation has been very supportive. As of now, the procurement has been concluded and Mr. President approved it last year. Part payment has already been made to the manufacturer. The Chief of Staff and I went to the factory November last year to ensure that what we are buying is what we are getting. The delivery will happen within the next one or two months, and then installation follows. This is fully automated; it will be spanning 360 degrees. We already know the solutions to all challenges we are going through, the minister knows and even Mr. President knows, too.
“In the interim, we have already set up the manual patrol. The military is going around the airport facilities for improved security. This automation is not just in Lagos, but it includes Abuja Airport. We also bought two pieces of motorised equipment. If you have any security challenges at any airport, we will drive it there and deploy it. Inside the vehicle, we have three screens that we can use to monitor and protect the airports,” Yadudu said.