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Discontent As States Spend N350bn On Non-Viable Airports

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In recent times, most state governments have ventured into airport projects in their different states. In this piece, ANTHONY AWUNOR, examines the viability of these airports, concluding that most of them are non-viable.

Taxpayers in some states of the federation have started to express growing discontent over billions of money being spent on the construction of airports by many state governments, even as they raised concerns over the viability of such airport projects.

Apart from the 25 airports being managed by the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), many state governments have since discovered airport projects both as a status symbol and a conduit pipe to syphon huge funds from the government’s purse. But not a few analysts view such efforts as a conduit and waste of public resources.

LEADERSHIP findings have revealed that, about 20 states have cumulatively spent and budgeted about N350 billion on existing and proposed airport projects.

States Airport Projects

The states that have either proposed or built airports are: Bauchi, Katsina, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Jigawa, Bayelsa, Kebbi, Gombe and Taraba, even as Ekiti, Nasarawa, Osun, Ogun, Zamfara, Abia, Anambra, Oyo and Lagos states wrap up plans to build their own.

LEADERSHIP investigations show that states that have successfully executed airport projects include: Bauchi (N7.9 billion); Katsina (N11 billion); A/Ibom (N18 billion); Delta (N40 billion); Jigawa (N15.5 billion); Kebbi (N17 billion); Gombe (N7 billion);Taraba (N10 billion).

It was also discovered that states with proposed airports portfolio are Ekiti (N22 billion); Osun (N11 billion); Nasarawa (N20 billion); Zamfara (N28 billion); Anambra (N20 billion) Ogun (N22 billion); Lagos (N102 billion).

The latest airport project undertaken by any state in the country is that of N60 billion Yenagoa International Airport, Bayelsa. The international airport which was flagged off for construction since 2012 during Governor Seriake Dickson’s first tenure in office, received its first flight operation recently by Air Peace. The flight operated by Capt. Crosby Otobo, and his crew took off from the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos and landed on the 3.5-kilometre runway of the Bayelsa International Airport in the afternoon.

According to the state government, the airport will be managed by an experienced Middle East airport operator as one of the largest Helicopter and Engine Manufacturer will set up a sales and maintenance centre for the African region at the airport.

Located at Amassoma, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, it is expected that a South African Air Cargo Company will also operate at the Yenagoa Hub.

Commending the state government, chief operating officer of Air Peace, Mrs. Oluwatoyin Olajide, said the airport would be a vehicle for the industrial and economic development of the state.

“Air Peace is an airline of many firsts. We are indeed honoured and delighted to make another history as the first commercial airline to operate into the Bayelsa Airport. We commend His Excellency, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson for this great project aimed at opening Bayelsa State up for rapid industrial and economic development. Since we commenced commercial flight operations over four years ago, Air Peace has greatly contributed to the development of cities and states we operate into.

“We have no doubt that the Bayelsa International Airport will provide us an opportunity to support the effort of the Bayelsa State Government to develop the state. It is indeed a new dawn for the people and residents of Bayelsa State. We urge the flying public and the business community to take advantage of this wonderful facility to break new grounds and realise their business and leisure interests,” Olajide said.

Experts’ Views

In separate interviews with LEADERSHIP, some stakeholders in some of the states with existing and proposed airport projects warned state governors who are fond of dabbling into building of airports unprepared, emphasising that such white elephant projects are the major cause of airports not being viable as expected.

“It is patronage by airlines that make any airport viable. How many airlines that come in determines its viability. With increased traffic, the economic activities will improve too which positively impacts on the people. State created airports are most times politically motivated. When they build and it is not functional, they hand over to the Federal Airports Authority and sometimes, the airlines may not get enough passengers to continue to patronise the airport”, a Lagos-based aviation expert said.

The experts also said lack of critical infrastructure; patronage and political factors are responsible for the underutilisation of some of the airports in the country, making them not viable in terms of positive and optimal contributions to the nation’s economy.

They said only four out of the over 25 domestic and international airports in the country are viable, which amounts to a meagre 16 per cent of the total number of airports across the country.

The four considered to be viable airports are Murtala Mohammed International Airport, (MMIA) Lagos; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) Kano, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja and Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), Port Harcourt while others are not rated as viable airports.

Speaking on why some airports are not viable, Secretary General of the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), Comrade Abdul Rasaq Saidu said that the mainstay of any airport, be it local or international is patronage, which determines how many airlines that make use of the airport.

“With increased patronage, more airlines would come and that will definitely boost passengers’ traffic. When the passenger traffic is high, it would also trickle down on the economic situation of the place where the airport is located and sometimes may turn it into an economic hub”, Saidu said.

But, a former Nigerian Air Force Officer, Chief Flight Surgeon and Chief Aerospace Medical Consultant, Dr. Makanjuola Owolabi has a different view. To the renowned aviator, some of these states really need airports in their different states.

Citing Ekiti State, for instance, Dr Owolabi told LEADERSHIP for the establishment of cargo airport in Ado Ekiti, the state capital is desirable.

Owolabi said that farmers in the state would only earn justifiable income from their produce if they are evacuated quickly to the markets like Lagos, Abuja and other cities and it is only air transport that can provide such quick movement.

He noted that Ekiti is an agrarian state, despite the fact that it is known for its intellectuals and noted that agriculture is the beacon of hope to overcome the present unemployment and also to empower rural dwellers financially.

Commenting on why some airports are more viable than others, the former Airport Manager of Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), Engr C A Nwobu, told LEADERSHIP that what makes the airports viable are the critical infrastructures which, in turn makes operations very easy.

On Port Harcourt Airport, Sir Nwobu said “I am sure you know that Port Harcourt International Airport is among the most viable airports in Nigeria. It can only be compared with Murtala Murhammed International Airport MMIA, Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, NAIA, Abuja. So I can authoritatively say that Port Harcourt International Airport is the third most viable airport in Nigeria.

“Virtually all the airlines come here. It is very viable for the Federal Government” he said. The airport manager said that airport operation is all about power, security, water and other basic infrastructure that you must need.

In his own views, renowned aviator, Mr. Mgbemena Orjiakor said any standard airport should have security, infrastructure, water, adequate air traffic and other facilities to be able to function and remain viable.

Airport Viability

For airport to be viable, experts have advised that the first thing to look at before constructing any airport is the passenger traffic around the airports that surround the prospective airport. For instance Osubi airstrip in Warri and Port Harcourt International Airport, which are around Bayelsa, do not generate as much traffic when compared to Lagos and Abuja airports.

With the proximity, there is this belief that Bayelsa does not require an international airport because passenger traffic at Port Harcourt airport is not up to 1.5 million annually and that of Osubi is about 500. In addition, passenger traffic between Rivers, Bayelsa and part of Delta annually is in the region of 2 million. Analysts have therefore, opined that funds used to concentrate airports within that region should have been invested into provision of health care and water and other social facilities for the people.

The situation is the same as in the case of Anambra which is also building an airport. Anambra is close to Asaba and Enugu airports, which from records, process less than 2 million passengers annually.

Consequently, the Asaba airport has not been used maximally. For the larger part of its existence, it only operated skeletal operations for a few airlines, including Arik Air, Aero and Overland Airways before it was downgraded by the apex aviation regulatory agency, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

In the North west, the Dutse airport in Jigawa, built by the administration of former Governor Sule Lamido for N15.5 billion, remains one of the nonviable terminals in the country. Its proximity to Yobe, Bauchi and Kano States has not attracted the envisaged patronage for the new airport which is only serviced by Overland Airways.

The Akwa Ibom Airport in Uyo was completed a few years ago. The airport has relatively been unviable as only a few airlines, including Arik Air, and now Ibom Air, operate flights into it.

Ibom Air To The Rescue

With the launch of Ibom Air in February this year by Akwa Ibom State government, experts are of the view that traffic along that axis will improve tremendously, thereby keeping the Akwa Ibom International Airport, Uyo busy. The State Government had few weeks ago launched the Ibom Air with two aircrafts unveiled by the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.

With the launch, Akwa Ibom made history as the only state in the country to run a state-owned airport and also an airline simultaneously.

Speaking at the launching of the aircrafts at the Victor Attah International Airport today in Uyo, Governor Udom Emmanuel said the airline was a monumental achievement in the state.

He said the aircrafts, C-FWNK, are only six years old with a sitting capacity of about 90 persons and constitute the newest and modern fleet of the Canadian airbus.

The governor said that Ibom airline will operate routes that would give preference to Akwa Ibom people, and that the government would soon launch one of the best terminal buildings in this country.

The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who unveiled the aircrafts commended the leadership qualities of the state governor, noting that he has been able to create an environment viable for development.

He said, “Today, we celebrate leadership; we celebrate the good things that can come out of Nigeria; we celebrate the audacity of hope. The governor has created an environment for people to have jobs. We are proud of you in the PDP family that you are one of us”.

Former governor of the state and initiator of the airport project, Obong Victor Attah commended the governor for carrying on the project he started, adding that he was happy that the governor was running the state as a business.

“I thank God that we have Governor Udom Emmanuel who has deemed it necessary to carry on the project we started years ago.

Also speaking, Chairman, Ibom Air, Idongesit Nkanga, said with the launch of the aircrafts, the state governor has shocked critics with his managerial prowess.

He stated that the airline will boost the realisation of the MRO facility within the region, adding that there is no stopping the visionary and industrial initiative of governor Udom Emmanuel.

“The government has taken the right steps. Ibom air will employ 300 people but 3,000 people will be involved in Ibom Air at one time or the other, excellent mangers have been selected,” he said.

The Ibom Air was inaugurated barely two years after the Imo State State governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha launched the Imo Air.

Meanwhile, the Imo Air is being operated for the State by DANA Airline because according to the governor, Okorocha, the State has not got the license to operate a full – blown airline.

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