Kaduna airport lying fallow after N2bn facelift
• Insecurity Working Against Kaduna – NASI Chair
• FAAN Cannot Force Airlines To Go To Any Airport – Yakubu
Kaduna Airport was recently upgraded to international status to drive traffic in the wake of repair works at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. But few weeks down the line, the aerodrome has returned to its sleepy state amidst huge investment that might just have been a waste. WOLE OYEBADE reports.
Except for Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, Airports nationwide are perpetually dormant. While some are blessed with one or two flights operations per day, several others rarely see landing or takeoff in weeks. And at nightfall when most airports around the world are at the peak, their counterparts in Nigeria are getting closed for the day.
Indeed, it is not due to fault of officials or commercial airlines. Most of the 26 airports lack good airfield lighting. Hence, any attempt to operate after 6:30pm is just a disaster waiting to happen.
Kaduna Airport used to be like that until recently. Apparently to the taste of the ever busy MMIA and NAIA, it was upgraded to international status in February and March for 24-hours flights operations.
It is not of magnanimity that the Federal Government transformed the airport, spending about two billion naira. Rather, for exigency of the moment to avail an alternative airport since Abuja airport, the second busiest in the country, was closing down for overdue rehabilitation exercise.
Billions worth of investment met purpose and Kaduna International Airport came alive. Given a newly installed Instrument Landing System (ILS), Category 9 upgrade of facilities, expanded runway, fire cover and new passenger terminal; it was with delight that the airport opened with Ethiopian Airline’s (ET) 787 dream-liner landed safely last March.
With asphalt been laid on Abuja airport’s sole runway, over 100 local flights were taking turns per day at Kaduna. Official records have it that over 3,533 aircraft flights and 170,150 passengers were recorded within the six weeks period.
Today, with the airport already back in bed due to low activities, there are worries over the investment deployed into its upgrade.It will be recalled that the Kaduna International Airport was picked ahead of Minna Airport, notwithstanding infrastructural constraint at the airport and insecurity in the state. Infrastructure was addressed and security well managed.
The Guardian learnt that the investment was quite strategic in the bid to open up the northern part of the country to other international flight operations besides seasonal Hajj operations.
Out of the 19 states within the northern geopolitical zone, 13 of them are nearer to Kaduna, while the remaining six are nearer to Abuja. “Getting it right with Kaduna is to further open up the north for international operations, without first going to Kano, Lagos or Abuja. And it was a success. It was also expected that Kaduna international Airport will continue to be a beehive of activities of flights even when Abuja reopened. Seeing everything gone cold was a surprise,” a top source at the airport said.
Amidst the concern of what becomes of the airport after the reopening of NAIA on April 19, aviation officials were enthusiastic that another international aerodrome of high traffic for the north has just opened. Even the airlines were quick to promise continuous patronage on the route, with some pledging two or three flights a-day. It was a pledge informed more by loyalty than business-concern.
Barely days after the NAIA reopening, passengers that had been booked for the Kaduna route post reopening at Abuja were left stranded at KIA as their airlines failed to show up!
As at the last check on Thursday, only three out of the eight operating airlines run the Lagos-Kaduna or route. Hence, an average of two or three commercial flights uses the international airport a day. Azman and Med-View consistently run a Lagos-Kaduna flight daily, while Arik Air does one frequency five days a week.
Spokesperson of one of the most popular carrier in the country, said; “we ordinarily don’t go to Kaduna, if not for the diversion.””The capacity is not just for us. More so, we don’t want to start competing with another airline on that route, when there are more lucrative destinations to connect.”
The Guardian learnt that except towards weekends, most airlines fly about 50 per cent seat-capacity on the route, which is not business-wise for airlines battling to stay afloat.
President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, said the KIA experience has shown that there is more to improving the air travel sector than infrastructure upgrade, as intended in the plan to concession all the airports.
Bankole said whereas there is nothing wrong with infrastructure development, there is need to complement same with good strategy and policy to ensure that travellers are drawn to use the facilities for maximal return.
Going forward, he advised the government to give operating airlines incentives to go to Kaduna. “It is obviously a low traffic route for air travel, but does not mean that northerners don’t want to fly. Why not encourage them to make appreciable use of the facility?”
At least two basic factors drive airport utilisation and they are the economy and tourism, says the Chairman, Governing Council of the Nigeria Aviation Safety Initiative (NASI), Capt. Dung Rwang Pam.Pam told The Guardian that neither of the factors has helped the course of “good initiative” in developing the infrastructure, coupled with the state government’s drive to attract investors.He noted that the entire country is in a state of economic recession and depression, which has not worked in favour of Kaduna, amidst insecurity that also do not mix with tourism.
According to Pam, “If it had been like 40 years ago, it would have been fantastic because Kaduna was more or less the economic, administrative and education centre of northern Nigeria. It has still got some charms to it though. The government has done a lot to encourage investment intimating the rest of the world about its rich deposit in gold. But we have to wait a bit to see the result.
“There is problem with its tourism because no matter how much you tried to advertise, tourism will not thrive where you have much insecurity. That is working against Kaduna at the moment, with foreign airlines, except ET deciding not to fly there. Government is also doing something in that area but needed to do more to curtail the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, led by El-Zakzaki and also activities of herdsmen in the Southern part of state as well.
“If the government can tackle these two security threats, they will be able to attract tourists and investors into the state. The sad thing about Kaduna is that it is almost mid-way between Abuja and Kano. These two have international airports that Kaduna has to compete with as one of the factors affecting the traffic they could have had.
“If they can look seriously and continue on their aim to make Kaduna a destination of choice for investors as well as they improve on security threats in Kaduna State, they will be able to improve the utilisation of Kaduna airport and make the investment that government made in KIA worthwhile,” Pam said.Chief Executive Officer Cita Aviation Fueling Company, Dr. Thomas Olaleye Ogungbangbe, added that the low uptake at KIA was symptomatic of the lack of cooperation among operators and growth in the aviation sector.
Ogungbangbe said the fact is that air traffic is abysmally low in Nigeria given that only 15 per cent (eight per cent) of the country’s over 170 million fly.Meanwhile, the airlines are still not making the most of the available traffic, to be opportune to develop seemingly less viable routes like Kaduna.
He said despite their marketing abilities, the industry has been unable to grow, expand and be strong enough to attract more Nigerians to travel by air, and this has contributed to excess capacity or performance below capacity that leads to huge economic losses in terms of potential turnover of air travellers not captured as passengers by the airlines.
According to him, “Why are our airlines operating at cross purposes and in competition instead of cooperating? Why not interline instead of one airline running seven frequencies with about 50 per cent capacity? Fact is that 40 per cent capacity covers fuel alone, which means nothing is left.
“Besides, the airlines are selling tickets at cheap prices when Boeing has said that no flight of about an hour should be less than $100. These are some of the problems that improved partnership would have addressed, save the airlines from high mortality rate and also endear the passengers to effective and efficient air travel,” he said.
Spokesperson of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Henrietta Yakubu, said though there is no comparing what the KIA was like in March and April to what it is now, but the airport has seen significant improvement in traffic as more flights operations are taking place at the airport.
Yakubu said: “It is not as if the airport has shut down after NAIA reopened. No! What we should realise is that the airport cannot continue to maintain the full capacity like it did during the diversion. We have been going there before the diversion and have continued after the reopening of Abuja airport.”I’m aware that Ethiopian Airlines is considering direct flight from KIA to Addis Ababa. So, definitely, investment of the Federal Government will not go to waste just like that. Airlines will continue to fly into the airport. You know that they do Hajj operations there too. So, the airport is bound to still be running, though may not be at capacity.”
Commenting on the sharp drop from over 100 flights to about two or three a-day, she said: “FAAN cannot force airlines to go to any airport they don’t want to go. The airport is always open to any airlines that cans to go,” adding that the subject of incentive is exclusively a policy decision of the government.