Dissecting the state of Nigerian airports
Lagos Airport Plagued By Constant Outages
Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, is the busiest among the 26 airports across the country. The airport that ordinarily should have been the transport hub for the West African region sees at least half of the three million annual air passenger traffic in the country. Surprisingly, travellers’ experiences often qualify as an oddity in modern air transport business.
Blessing Eluem has lived in the United States all her life. Below her belt is over three decades of nursing practices. Her family had half of the period contemplated a return home to contribute to the country’s development. Nigerians in the Diaspora have been canvassing for home return of professionals, championed by the healthcare sector.
Her eyes scanned through the side window as the pilot announced their arrival at MMIA, Lagos. It was pitch dark! It was one of those days, penultimate Monday to be precise, when the Lagos international aerodrome had a blackout.Eluem’s heart skipped some beats as the Delta aircraft landed and taxied through the darkness. In all of her experience of working with international organisations and traveling across the world, she had never seen anything like it – an airport in darkness in a country that is not at war.
With the aid of torchlights in the hands of airport officials, they managed to descend into the terminal that could be mistaken for an oven.“It was terrible to say the least,” Eluem recounted.“The heat that greeted us at the entry point was blistering. I was covered in sweat, but too perplexed to yank off my cardigan. And there we were for about two hours because every clearance, whatever it is worth in such circumstance, was done manually. It was hell! The confusion and chaos at the departure section was out of the world.”
Such has been the experience of air travellers in the last couple of weeks because of constant power outage at the airport. Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) saddled with the day-to-day running of the airport, has either blamed the incessant outage to over-used power transformers or construction works at the new terminal.
Similar outage was experienced some days ago. At the peak period of departure for most international airlines, the entire airport terminal was thrown into darkness, forcing airline staff and profilers to carry out check-in procedures with torchlights and other manual equipment.Ken, who was travelling to the United Kingdom, said the situation caused arriving flights to use the open bay to disembark passengers.
“The entire terminal was in darkness from about 10:30pm and this occurred when passengers to various destinations were being processed and some were being checked in for boarding. This is the height of embarrassment to our country and it should not be allowed to continue,” he said.One of the airport workers, who confirmed the development, disclosed that the airport had endured an hour-long outage earlier in the day. This, he said, equally affected the process of getting passengers ready for check-in.
The worker said that the second outage of the day may have occurred as a result of glitches on the national grid, as the entire airport environment was in darkness.Poor state of the conveniences have also worsened an already difficult situation in the terminal. The toilets, under the watch of some cleaning service companies, continue to ooze pungent smell, much to the disgust of both Nigerian and foreign travelers.
It would be recalled that a travel website, The Guide to Sleeping in Airports, last year named MMIA, Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja among the 10 worst airports in Africa. The Port Harcourt International was in fact decorated as the “world’s worst airport.”President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, said that the airports have continued to be a “national embarrassment” for a country aiming to make revenue from tourism.
Bankole said: “NANTA is embarrassed by the look of our airports and the situation of our aviation sector today, because Nigeria has never paid attention to the huge benefits that abound in tourism.”With huge revenue accrued to the regulatory authorities from airport charges put at $70 per person, stakeholders are of the view that there is no excuse for the decrepit state of the airport.
Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, admitted that the airports are in terrible shape, saying government had commenced plans to concession them under a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement with investors beginning with the international airports in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano.
Sirika said: “We cannot grow with our airports in the current state. No way. You cannot create a hub with Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos or Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, as they are or the ones in Port Harcourt and Kano.
“Because, some of the recent high-capacity airplanes that are flying around the world like the A380s and 777s and so on are just too sophisticated and too large to be handled by our airports at the moment. The atmosphere within these airports is not anything to talk about. It is really difficult for us to attract passengers to them,” he said.
Continuing, Sirika said: “Today we are doing 15million passengers per annum. With the right things in place, Nigeria has the potentials of doing 70 to 100million within five years.“Research has shown that about 40 per cent of passengers like to transit through fantastic airports. Dubai is a classical example. We must be able to develop our airports. Government, however, no longer has the money to put into these public properties. As social democrats, we are also not willing to sell or privatise these entities. We will not.”President of Aviation Round Table (ART) Gabriel Olowo, said the government would do the sector a huge favour if privatisation is considered in place of concession.
Enugu: Facilities Wearing Out Faster Due To Poor Maintenance
From Lawrence Njoku Enugu
Since December 2010, when the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu was reopened after few months of its closure in preparation for her current status, work has been in progress. The remodeling and expansion work that took place saw the terminal building for the local wing wearing a new look, while other major construction work at the international wing and other areas of the airport are still ongoing.
Although most of the facilities are new, investigations reveal that they are wearing out faster than expected due to pressure, poor maintenance, poor power supply system and absence of other facilities.During his visit to the airport last year, Managing Director, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Engr Saleh Dunoma had assured that the international terminal of the airport would be functional within eight months. That was in July last year.
He assured then that the basic facilities needed for the smooth operation of the airport were already in place, while further
work on the runway would be carried out to tackle some identified challenges, especially the poor drainage system.
The Guardian discovered that though international flights and operations have commenced, it is yet to acquire an international status in view of the several challenges operators and passengers encounter daily.For instance, both the domestic and international flight operations are currently being handled from the remodeled domestic terminal, where the FAAN, Immigration, Customs and airlines personnel are being accommodated.
The situation makes transactions at the place very cumbersome as passengers scramble to book their flights. Manual checks on passengers are still being conducted at intervals.An official of FAAN told The Guardian on condition of anonymity that the situation is also taking a toll on the facilities at the domestic wing, stressing that the initial pressure it caused forced the authority to remove the seats at the terminal building entrance hall.
“It is part of the effort to check movement and reduce the congestion that we have been facing. Immediately any passenger is cleared he moves to the departure hall to wait for his flight. Our problem really is space, all the airlines are lumped together and the thing is putting pressure on the existing facilities because we are now faced with absorbing more than provided on the original plan”, she said.
The international terminal building is yet to be fixed, same as the cargo wing. The airport is not opened to night operation due to the absence of lighting system. Last year, Dunoma had directed that the 1000KVA generator acquired for the place be installed to supply to facilitate the connection of new facilities at the place. That seems to have been done, but the source said it was not enough to solve the power problem at the airport.
A passenger simply identified as John, said: “There is so much disorder here and I want to believe that is borne out of ongoing constructions. We spend so much time waiting for our luggage. From my observation, the conveyor belt appears to be ineffective and needs replacement.“There is only one bus conveying passengers to and from the planes. I really think there is need to improve on the facilities we have here to enable this place function effectively.”
Renovation Work Abandoned
At Yakubu Gowon Airport
From Isa Abdulsalami-Ahovi, Jos
The Yakubu Gowon Airport in Jos has adopted security measures in view of the security challenges in Plateau State. The measures include surveillance of the car park, particularly overnight-parked vehicles,
checks on all vehicles parked at the commercial access gate and restriction of movement of staff and passengers in the restricted areas.
This is more so at the arrival and departure lounges and airside. The remodelling work at the airport has actually been stopped half- way.One of the airport workers, who pleaded anonymity said that the renovation work which started in 2014 has stopped since the former Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah left office.
“The contractor allegedly diverted the money and abandoned the job. For now, nothing is happening. Airlift of passengers has been going on. Passengers are using the airport.”Mr. Jonathan Shaibu, a passenger, arrived the airport by 2.00 pm with his luggage to meet up with flight. He said he was travelling to Lagos by Arik airline.The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the airport, Mr. Alfred Itua, said that nobody could say that the airport is in a deplorable state.
According to Itua, “You can see the airport is not dilapidated. The ongoing remodelling has stopped, but that does not mean that the situation at the airport is bad.“Before the remodelling commenced, the airport was in a terrible state. There was no toilet, but now, there are toilets. Two toilets for the female, and four for the male passengers using the airport. All these facilities were not there until the present Airport Manager, Mr. Gbolahan Ayinla, resumed in November 2014,” he said.
Port Harcourt: A Tent Still Serves As Arrival Hall
From Kelvin Ebiri (South-South Bureau Chief)
Months after the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, Rivers State, was ranked as the worst airport in the world, travelling through the airport still remains a nightmare for travellers. It is no secret that a section of the airport terminal under construction has been abandoned, thus compounding the woes of the 37-year-old airport.
In 2015, ‘Guide to Sleeping in Airports’ surveyed over 26,000 fliers to find out the best and worst airports around the world. The Port Harcourt airport topped the list of the worst airports globally. This didn’t come as a surprise to many, because the airport has for years been plagued by a variety of problems caused by neglect.
Till date, the airport still uses a single terminal with separate areas for domestic and international flights. At the time of writing this report, a tent still serves as the Arrival Hall.A passenger who identified himself as Mr. Tekena Horsefall told The Guardian that arriving the Port Harcourt International Airport, particularly at night, could be likened to sheer chaos and agonising nightmare.
Another passenger who came to clear his cargo at the airport lamented and alleged that the Immigration and Customs officials have turned themselves to minefield for international passengers, especially traders, who are often harassed to bribe them to clear their goods.“The scanning machines and baggage carousels are antediluvian. The reality of this airport being one of the most unattractive airports in the world will dawn on you when you arrive here at night. It could be so dark sometimes because the lights in the makeshift tent terminal don’t often work. Presently, to stem drug trafficking, the security here still search luggage with their eyes and hands. Whereas in other parts of the world people use specially trained dogs,” he said.
Due to years of neglect, and as the airport risked becoming obsolete in 2011, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration launched a renovation programme for the remodelling of the terminal. Unfortunately, as the build-up to the 2015 politics gathered momentum in 2013, the airport remodelling was abandoned midway by the federal government due to its perception that the then State government was averse to it.
Only a section of the departure hall now used for local and international flights is in use. The upstairs section which ought to serve as airline offices is uncompleted and abandoned. The hall lacks air conditioner.The rest-rooms inside the departure hall have been upgraded, but they are still filthy. A passenger who identified herself as Ms. Ibiso Godfrey, described the filthiness of the toilets as debasing for an international airport that was commissioned in 1979 to serve the air transport logistics needs of the growing oil and gas industry in the Niger Delta region.
“You will recall that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had between August 2006 to January 2008, shut down this same airport ostensibly that they want to overhaul the runway, remodel the airport. No doubt that the terminal building has been partially remodelled, but no amount of glitzy remodelling can ease the irritation travellers experience here. It is unthinkable that a 21st century, airport lacks internet access. What was on ground is a far from what we anticipated,” she said.
A staff of Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) who pleaded anonymity said the toilets are filthy, because the contractor has often alleged that the Ministry of Aviation was owing him for months. “And because of this, he has been unable to pay his workers as at when due. They have become lackadaisical in the discharge of their duties
You cannot replace the cleaners because the contract is subsisting. FAAN often intervenes intermittently to assuage the situation whenever the stench from the toilets becomes unbearable for passengers,” she said.A staff of one of the international airlines at the airport, who spoke anonymously, wondered why after the airport was ranked as the worst in the world, the government had not deemed it fit to redeem the battered image of the airport.
According to him: “ Just like the proverbial leopard that cannot change its spots, authorities saddled with administration of the airport have failed to realise that a modern airport is a gateway to prosperity for any nation.”However, there is a glimpse of hope for international travellers. In a bid to reduce congestion, the Ministry of Aviation in partnership with China is building a new terminal for international passengers.
A source in FAAN explained that the new terminal that would be commissioned soon is of modern standard and will be a regional envy.It was gathered that modern amenities such as CCTV, fire alarms, air conditioning system have been installed in the new international terminal.Though, it is not clear if there will be Duty Free shops there, The Guardian learnt that adequate spaces have been provided for the airline offices, immigration, security and customs. The terminal also has flight information display system, restaurants, check in counters and more modern baggage conveyors among other facilities.
Security at the airport remains lax. Last November, a staff of the FAAN and his wife living at the staff quarters were kidnapped. The road leading to Ipo village runs through the airport, thus exposing passengers to the risk of robbery and kidnap particularly at night.
The location of the airport is inconvenient. There is no public transportation system. Hence, air travellers who are not mobile are left at the mercy of shylock taxi drivers who charge as much as N5000 for less than 30 minutes drive.
With the downturn in the Nigerian economy, only two international airlines and four domestic ones are operational at the airport.
Besides the abandoned terminal building which makes the airport unattractive, the unfenced car parks is surrounded by overgrown weeds and deteriorating interlocking pavement.