Multibillion naira state airports redundant
By Nuruddeen M. Abdallah, Daniel Adugbo, Chris Agabi (Abuja), Maryam Ahmadu-Suka (Kaduna) Nahimah Ajika |
Many local airports built by state governments have now become under-utilised and economically unviable, Daily Trust investigations have shown.
These airports, which cost the respective state governments billions of naira to build, are barely used.
They are mainly used for occasional charter flights, the annual hajj airlift and, on few occasions, for military operations.
Most of the airports are idle because of lack of economic activities, proximity to more viable airports and security problems, findings revealed.
They also lack adequate infrastructure and navigational facilities such as landing lights, short and narrow runways, fire service facilities, conveyor belt, fuel dump, motorized ladders, and ambulance services.
Despite the redundancy of these airports, eight more states namely Ekiti, Ogun, Anambra, Nasarawa, Osun, Zamfara, Lagos (Epe), and Abia states have new airports on the drawing boards.
There are 26 airports in the country operated by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), a state-owned airport and 13 airstrips built by the military and multinational oil companies.
The five international airports are those of Lagos, Kano, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Enugu. The major domestic airports are in Bauchi, Calabar, Jos, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Sokoto and Yola.
The local domestic airports are in Asaba, Akure, Bauchi, Benin, Birnin Kebbi, Gombe, Ibadan, Ilorin, Jalingo, Katsina, Makurdi, Minna, Owerri, Warri and Zaria.
The airport in Uyo is owned by the Akwa Ibom state government while the Nigerian Air force has two airports in Makurdi and Port Harcourt.
The commercial aviation industry has contributed about N137.9 billion to the Nigerian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2015, according to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Aviation experts told Daily Trust that the proliferation of airports in the country is without a corresponding rise in passenger traffic, enhanced disposable income, economic activities, and dwindling resources to states.
The stakeholders said the best way to make these politically-motivated airports economically viable is to concession them or out rightly privatise them.
Umaru Musa Yar’adua International airport in Katsina has no any commercial or scheduled flight; only charter flights are found to operate there.
The last commercial flights of Arik and Overland airlines that landed at the airport was over four years ago, sources said.
The airport general manager Bello Giade told our reporter the airport only comes to life when Hajj operations are ongoing but as soon as they wind up, only the handful chartered flights happen.
The agreement between the state government with Arik and Overland lasted only for a year due to lack of patronage.
However, the election of President Muhammadu Buhari saw some increase in chartered flights by his associates on their way to Daura recently.
Dutse airport in Jigawa state was built by the former Governor Sule Lamido at the cost of N17 billion and commissioned in 2014.
The airport was initially to be built at N11 billion but rose to N17 billion at completion.
No aircraft can take off or land at night because the six- kilometre runway has no lightning facilities.
Sule Lamido entered an agreement with Overland Airline to operate domestic flight schedule with a guarantee to offset losses. When Overland Airline was coming to Dutse a minimum of five and maximum of 15 passengers is recorded.
The arrangement collapsed when the new government under Mohammed Badaru Abubakar came on board.
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Airport in Bauchi was built by former Governor Isah Yuguda. Its contract was awarded at an initial cost of N7 billion, but was later reviewed to N13 billion.
It is used to airlift pilgrims during hajj operations, while Overland operates constant flight.
However, its closeness to Gombe and Dutse airports has reduced the passenger volume to the Bauchi airport.
The airline is operating based on subsidy agreement the Yuguda administration signed with the airline.
Contacted, Governor Muhammed Abubakar’s media aide Yakubu Ibn Mohammed said the airport is “a misplaced priority by the former governor.”
Sir Ahmadu Bello International Airport, Birnin Kebbi was built at N17billion by former Governor Sa’idu Dakingari administration.
The airport which operates two domestic flights weekly by Air Peace airline has 210 staff.
The airport manager Umaru Mande said the projected revenue generation is about N30million, but the state government spends N5million monthly in maintaining the airport.
“Past administration of Governor Saidu Dakingari approved N4.5million for staff salaries under the state ministry of works.
“The airport has a total workforce of 210 from the state and 22 staff from the federal government comprising NEMA, NAMA, FAAN and SAHCOOL,” he said.
Kebbi deputy Governor Samaila Yombe, a professional pilot, said the airport was built at N28 billion not N17 billion as reported.
He said most existing airport equipment such as fire tenders standard are not available.
“We always approach FAAN to provide the additional standard fire tender during Hajj Operations to meet the category,” he said.
‘Airports are status symbols’
Former managing director of the defunct Nigerian Airways, Captain Mohammed Joji told Daily Trust in Kaduna that most of these states airports are tools to siphon funds.
He said the “only reason why these states want to build airports is because of the Muslim holy pilgrimage, Hajj which is done yearly. Other times, the airports are left unmanaged until the next hajj period which is not right.”
“It is also very dangerous because some of the runways being built cannot take the weight of jumbo planes; they can land, but continues pounding of the runway is a major risk,” he said.
He said airports can only be a veritable tool to socio-economic development of the state after the infrastructure deficits, unemployment, dearth of education and health institutions are addressed.
He said the latest airport-building-binge with most states also paying salaries of the staff working at the airports is bound to be a colossal waste of resources.
Privatise major airports with unviable ones – Stakeholders
Former commandant, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) said “privatisation should stop at the terminal building while security should be in the hands of the government.”
Recently, chairman, Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited, Wale Babalakin said the dwindling fortunes of Nigerian airports could be turned around within 30 months through a well-structured private sector intervention.
He also advised government to divide the nation’s airports into four zones, comprising Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt before offering them to interested concessionaires, adding that each zone should then be made responsible for the growth of all airports within its jurisdiction.
Also, former Assistant General Secretary of Airline Operators (AON), Alhaji Muhammed Tukur said it is only the private sector that can manage airport terminals efficiently and also provide the needed infrastructure.
Commenting, a Senior Special Assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Aviation Reforms, Captain Victor Iriobe, said these domestic airports are not run in a business-like manner.
While saying that government doesn’t have any business managing them, he advised that privatising these airports will be the way out.
However, President, Aviation Round Table (ART) Captain Dele Ore said privatising these domestic airports cannot be the solution to making them economically viable.
Ore, a former pilot with the defunct Nigeria Airways and a lawyer, suggested that although the government has exclusive rights over aviation but it has too much on its hands; it must expand private sector involvement in the management of domestic airport terminals through concessions.
Lead analyst at Altitude Associates, an Aviation consultancy firm, Mr. Alexander Ikeazor, said managers of the local airports need to invest more to upscale runway and internal airport facilities which will help facilitate intra-state trade and economic activities.
He said airports all over the world are run by private entities with government providing oversight.
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