Airports, airports everywhere… but few viable ……. NATION

airport

Proposed Project
states airports portfolio

Ekiti N22 billion
Osun N11 billion
Nasarawa N20 billion
Zamfara N28 billion
Abia Not available
Anambra N20 billion
Ogun N22 billion
Lagos N102 billion

Existing states’ Portfolio

airports

 

Delta                   N40 billion

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

All over the world, airports are considered as economic and social infrastructure. They are expected to be the catalyst for accelerated development in the localities where they are located.

Besides being key to air transportation, airports also serve as a border posts between countries with its attendant security features.

Apart from the 22 airports built by the Federal Government, many state governments have since discovered such facilities as both a status symbol. But not a few analysts view such efforts as a conduit and waste of public resources.

The Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Ameachi, hit the nail on the head at weekend when he cautioned state governments to pull the breaks and refrain from the establishment of airports.

Ameachi’s advice came as many states groan under cash crunch following dwindling handouts from the Federation Account. The minister counselled governors to exert their energies on projects that would impact positively on the people.

According to Amaechi, who spoke in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, airport is a project that no governor should undertake at a time when the economy of the country is crawling. He, however, gave a caveat – unless such the socio–economic fortunes permit it.

As far as he is concerned, more than half of the existing airports are commercially unviable.

Ameachi said: “Governors should focus on those things that would improve on the lives of the poor, not the rich. It’s the rich people that fly in planes. How many poor people know where airport is more or less fly an aircraft?

“I believe that the construction of airport should be backed by the growth of the economy. There are some airports that are constructed just for the governors to land and take off. That won’t be the idea for me as minister of transportation.

“I’d rather prefer that all airports that are constructed would be backed by economic demand. And when we look at the numbers, if the numbers add up…We would not discourage Ogun State if you like to construct an airport, but we would like to advise that they should look at the economic advantage of an airport.”

Some experts say the building of airports has become fashionable for many state governments without serious consideration for their viability. The viability or otherwise of state airports has stirred a heated debate.

In contrast to the austere economy, state governments view the ownership of airports as a competition. Their concern is primarily on the ownership and not on the viability.

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

But, the viability of these multi-billion naira projects remains questionable, considering passenger and aircraft traffic originating and terminating from them.

The states that are conceptualising their airports argue that the existence of such facilities in their domains would stimulate socio-economic activities. They believe airports will shore up business activities and attract investments.

They also say the existence of airports will enhance the creation of hubs to facilitate export of agricultural produce from the hinterlands to urban centres.

However, analysts argue that patronage of existing airports has not justified the investments. For instance, the Delta State Airport in Asaba, the state capital, gulped N40 billion.

Initially, it was billed to cost N6.4 billion before it was reviewed four times due to runway expansion and the provision of other safety critical facilities.

A few airlines, including Arik Air, Aero and Overland Airways were flying into the Asaba airport before it was downgraded for smaller aircraft by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

Air Peace, which joined the route, last year, has suspended its flight due to the downgrading of the airport. Flights into the aisrport are limited, raising fresh concerns over its viability.

The Akwa Ibom Airport in Uyo was completed a few years ago. It was conservatively built at N18 billion. The airport has relatively been unviable as only a few airlines including Arik Air, DANA Air, First Nation and Discovery Airline (now rested) operate flights into it.

The maintenance repair centre proposed for the Uyo Airport has not been achieved.

Worried over the non-viability of the airport, the state government called on the Federal Government last year to take it over.

In the Northwest, the Dutse Airport in Jigawa built by the administration of former Governor Sule Lamido at N15.5 billion remains one of the unviable terminals in the country.

Its closeness to Yobe, Bauchi and Kano states has not attracted the envisaged patronage for the new airport which is only serviced by Overland Airways.

With skeletal flight services between Abuja and Dutse, the state capital, the hope of facilitating agro-allied export from the airport remains a pipe dream.

Speaking on the N15.5 billion airport recently, Lamido’s successor, Mohammed Abubakar, hinted of his administration’s plan to partner with investors to establish a flying training school in Dutse to make the airport viable.

According to him, the idea is part of several measures being worked out to enhance the economic viability of Dutse International Airport.

He said the state government has approached various investors in the aviation sector to establish a flying school in Dutse, adding that doing so remains the only way to make the airport beneficial to the state and its people.

This, he said, was part of measures initiated by his administration to ensure effective utilisation of the airport for the benefit of the people of the state.

His words: “We have been discussing on how best to utilise the airport. The state government is approaching investors who plan to have a flying school in Nigeria with a view to using our airport for training and build the school around the airport.

“We are also looking at the option of hanger development as well, to fix aircraft. We have already approached a lot of companies around the globe.”

Abubakar also spoke of a plan by his government to woo commercial farmers to set up green houses and cold rooms around the airport to stimulate export of perishable produce from the state.

He explained that the measure would encourage the cultivation of perishable farm produce and promote export.

“We pray that one of these options will materialise to make the airport completely viable,” the governor hoped.

The Bauchi Airport, which was built at over N7.9 billion by the administration of former Governor Isa Yuguda , has been unviable and inactive. Save for few chartered flights and transportation of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia during hajj, the airport has limited flight operations.

The concessioning of an aircraft acquired by the state government to Morocco underscored the viability of the airport.

Besides its non-viability, the Bauchi Airport stirred a controversy last year when passengers aboard an Aero aircraft disembarked on the tarmac using a wooden ladder.

The incident exposed the safety and security measures at the airport as the NCAA pointed out serious safety infraction.

Taraba is another state in the Northeast that has built a N10 billion airport. The viability of the facility has been a big issue as only Overland Airways operate scheduled flights into the airport.

In the same region, Gombe Airport in Gombe, the state capital, was built a few years ago with more than N7 billion of the tax payers’ money.  Till date, it attracts limited flight operations.

Only Overland Airways organise flights to the airport from Abuja, raising question on the rationale for sinking fortunes into the construction of an airport that has not added any economic value to the state.

The closeness of Yola to neigbouring Adamawa State has reduced the Yola Airport to an elephant project with no economic value to the agrarian state.

In faraway Kebbi State, an airport was inaugurated in Birnin Kebbi, its capital. It was built for N17 billion in 2015.

Sources confirm that the airport boosts of the best navigation facilities for foreign aircraft overflying the nation’s airspace. But, it has remained unprofitable to the state as only Air Peace operates skeletal flights, thrice weekly, between Lagos – Abuja and Birnin Kebbi.

The Nation learnt that low passenger traffic discouraged other operators who were planning to open up the route.

Experts argue that if the state government had been creative, it should evolve strategies to attract agricultural export from the state to other states and neighboring countries including Benin Republic, Niger and Chad.

The airport in Katsina State, built a few years ago for a whopping N11 billion, has remained under utilised as no airline operate flights into it.

Only recently, the state government spoke of plans to engage the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to assist in the management of the airport.

Despite the under utilisation of existing airports and widespread criticisms, states government are unrelenting in their quest have airports of their own.

In the Northcentral region, Nassarawa State is proposing a N20 billion airport in Lafia, the state capital.

A deluge of criticisms trail the project. Aviation experts and politicians in the state describe it as a wasteful venture.

Writing off the multi-billion project, Captain John Okakpu believes the airport cannot stimulate the growth of air cargo.

According to him, Nasarawa Governor Umaru Al-Makura may not have been properly guided before deciding to build such an ambitious infrastructure.

Statistics, he says, has shown that the airport will attract low patronage.

Relying on International Air Transport Association (IATA) statistics and market analysis for last year, Okakpu insists that nothing has suggested that the airport will be viable and sustainable.

His words: “To me, the government of Nasarawa ought to have devoted its strength to empowering farmers for agro-allied produce rather than building an airport.

In Lagos State, work has advanced on the proposed cargo airport at the Epe / Lekki axis. The project, which is expected to gulp more than N102 billion, is being developed to service the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ).

Of all the airport projects being planned, only that of Lagos State has not attracted much criticism. Many argue that a mega city state like Lagos deserves an alternate airport to relieve the congested Muritala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja (MMIA).

In Osun State, construction has started on the N11 billion Moshood Abiola International Airport billed for Ido Osun.

Governor Rauf Aregbesola, whose administration is promoting the project argues the Osun Airport will not just be for passengers and cargo alone. He says the inclusion of a Hangar for the repair of aircraft will make it viable.

Aregbesola said: “In the entire West African sub-sub-region, the only Hangar is in Ghana. When the Moshood Abiola International Airport is built, it will service the airlines in the country and those from neighbouring countries.

“So, we are not just building an airport for an airport sake. We are building a facility different from the conventional passenger and cargo airports. Those who criticise us do so because they don’t have an idea of what we are doing.”

But, controversy continues to trail the efforts of the Ekiti State government to build a N22 billion airport, which many have described as wasteful and not a priority to the Fountain of KnowledgeState.

Experts say the proximity of two airports – Akure and Ibadan to Ekiti is sufficient grounds for the state not to waste scarce resources on an airport, given the unviable state of the two airports in Oyo and Ondo states.

The farmers, who lost economic trees to the acquisition of their farmlands by the state government for the project, recently staged a protest. But, Governor Ayodele Fayose has vowed that the first plane will touched down on the tarmac before the expiration of his tenure in 2018.

In Anambra, work has started on a N5 billion airport.  Industry watchers however say the proximity of Asaba and Enugu airports to the state may render the proposed airport economically wasteful.

Former managing director of defunct Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), Captain Mohammed Joji, said building airports should not be the priority of states in the face of dwindling revenues.

He said in a recent interview: “The various states must first stimulate their economic environment, develop skills and develop agric/mineral resources on a mechanised/ large scale.

“They should set up industries before embarking on building airports, which to us all are to serve the opulent lifestyles of few elite. States’ governors must first address the poor state of the roads, dilapidated hospitals, schools, lack of water, sanitation, unpaid salaries still bedeviling these states.

“Regional approach to infrastructural deficits should be initiated. States should please not go to capital market or issue boards to build airports.

“They should conduct a bankable feasibility/ viability analysis before embarking on airport construction. Let us see how many of them could pass viability tests. None, not even Lagos and Ogun that generateN22 billion and N7 billion monthly IGR.

“If you have the fund, utilise it on critical infrastructural deficits that would add value. Let us have viable alternatives but not grandiose projects like airport with most of them unviable and could only turn to football pitches or abandoned in the nearest future or at best a tourist attraction or a cinema house. A word is enough.”

Rather than embarking on what he called a waste, Joji has suggested that a state like Ekiti should drop the idea of building an airport and join hands with neighbouring  Ondo State to make the Akure airport viable.

He equally advised Osun State government to cooperate with Oyo State to make the Ibadan airport more attractive.

Sheri Kyari, the Managing Director of Finum Air Services, welcomes the idea of building airports for as long as facilities can be positioned in such a way that it could be made by the state government to be commercially viable.

Kyari said state governments should subsequently open up the states for businesses and investments and ensure that embarking on such capital intensive projects will not tell deny the people dividends of democracy.

He said: “I think it is alright. But, looking at the general trend of the economic challenges  confronting the country presently, I think embarking on such projects at this point in time is a mere wastage.”

An airline operator, who pleaded for anonymity, called for the re-evaluation of some of investments in the aviation sector, particularly as it concerns the ongoing quest by every state to have an airport.

Airports, he said are commercial enterprises and not charity.

The operator said: “Once you commission an airport, just like an airplane, it has to stay operational in order to ensure the maintenance of its various state-of-the-art technologies and facilities or they rot due to redundancy.”

According to him, the deployment of resources to construct and maintain airports had to match other economic realities, like the profitability of such investments, given other socio-economic needs of citizens.

Since most airports in Nigeria are not viable, he called on governors and other stakeholders to learn how to get their priorities right.

Aiports, belonging to state governments have become a study in isolation for industry experts.

Apart from their unviable status, the airports lack adequate infrastructure and navigational facilities such as landing lights, short and narrow runways, fire service facilities, conveyor belt, fuel dump, motorised ladders and ambulance services.

Studies have shown that only the private sector can effectively and efficiently manage airport terminals and also provide the needed infrastructure.