‘Strategic infrastructure upgrade to enhance safety, new traffic at airports’

The passenger traffic projections for Africa are quite promising amid the open sky treaty recently launched. But how ready are Nigerian airports for the gains? WOLE OYEBADE reports.

Guide to Sleeping in Airports survey 2017 again listed Nigerian international airports among the worst in the world. Port-Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), Rivers State, is the chief culprit and ranked the third worst airport in the world.

Though the 2017 ranking was an improvement compare to 2015 survey where the airport ranked first from bottom, the third position is not good enough.

The annual survey in question samples customer-experience of international passengers using some of the major aerodromes around the world. And as many passengers that use PHIA could tell that the ambiance can be quite unwelcoming for the third busiest airport in the country.

Specifically, passengers complain of “extortion by officials, the lack of bathroom facilities, lack of air conditioning, horrible baggage handling and the tent that serves as the arrival terminal.”

The narrative is partly similar to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) that came fifth in the worst airport survey.

According to observers, these accounts are part of the indications that the country is not ready for open sky, especially airport infrastructure-wise. However, others blame the narrative on delays in completion of new terminals at PHIA, MMIA and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja that is currently getting the attention of the aviation ministry.

Indeed, the need for infrastructure cannot be over-emphasised in modern day air travel business. Besides aircraft, the airport terminals must also be efficiently running in a safe, secured and comfortable environment for the paying passengers.

Speaking at the Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit (SAALS) this week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) president, Alexandre de Juniac, called for urgent attention to address infrastructure challenges in order to secure the industry’s future.

“Having the infrastructure to grow is vital to our industry’s future. But in many key places, it is not being built fast enough to meet growing demand. All the optimism supporting strong aircraft orders will mean nothing if we don’t have the capability to manage traffic in the air and at airports,” de Juniac said.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) has projected that the global passenger traffic will rise from 2.4 billion to 16 billion, with huge revenue in trillions of dollars for Gross Domestic Product of countries by 2050. The body in a 2014 commissioned studies of 12 strategic African countries shows that the total air traffic flow among would increase by 81 per cent, if the 12 fully liberalise their skies among themselves. This would represent an increase of five million passengers.

The Guardian learnt that notwithstanding the plan to concession the airports for optimal performance, the Ministry of Aviation in collaboration with the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), have lately re-doubled efforts to keep the airports fit for purpose.

Besides the NAIA runway that was rehabilitated and completed in estimated six-week, the authority has also kept focus on the completion of new local and international terminals at PHIA and two international terminals at Lagos and Abuja airports, to enhance passenger comfort accommodate new traffic.

General Manager Public Affairs, FAAN, Henrietta Yakubu, said they were not unaware of the poor ranking of PHIA and MMIA, “which is why we want to have the new terminals completed as soon as possible. ”

It will be recalled that the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, and FAAN officials toured the PHIA in January to assess the terminal that is almost 90 per cent ready. While Sirika promised that the international terminal will be set for commissioning by July 2018, he threatened to revoke contract of the old domestic terminal over dissatisfaction with protracted delay by the contractor.

Yakubu added that safety, security and comfort remain the authority’s core values and facility upgrades across the airports are been channeled in these directions.

“You will recall that we recently got the MMIA and NAIA fully certified by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). After the incident of the supposed poaching of aircraft at Lagos airport, FAAN swung into action and today, our Director of Operations has been able to make arrangement for closed circuit cameras to be mounted on the airside of our airport. We are also beginning to fix flood-lights on the airside for proper illumination.

“Again, security has improved a lot on our airside with more security operatives deployed, coupled with ‘follow-me’ vehicles to now tail aircraft from behind, to prevent any unauthorised entry during taxing at the Lagos airport.”

She observed that close proximity of residential houses to the Lagos airport poses a security risk, adding that very soon FAAN will come up with a directive mandating such houses to be relocate them.

Just last week, FAAN also completed the removal of some abandoned aircraft at the airside of the Lagos airport “to create free access and manoeuvring of serviceable aircraft at the aircraft.”

Contrary to claims of respondent in the Guide to Sleeping in Airports reports, the MMIA is now more comfortable with cooling system, wash rooms accessories now been replaced to taste beginning with Wing A of the terminal.

“By the time the new terminals open at PHIA, all the transactions taking place like the check-in and arrival tent will be a thing of the past. Because, international passengers will move to their terminal and that will decongest the place, with the whole of the current terminal dedicated to domestic operations only. You will not see that tent again.”