‘Nigerian airports unfit for airline hub services’

 Hadi Sirika

Hadi Sirika

Government stakeholders insist on airport concession, national carrier

Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, has said that the current state of international airports in the country is unbefitting of Nigeria’s status, and its quest for the West African sub-regional hub.

Sirika said that while the government has no sufficient fund to upgrade the infrastructure, it has decided that there is no going back on planned concession of the airports, beginning with the big four.

The minister, apparently reacting to dissenting voices against planned concession, said the Federal Government is now attracting private sector-driven investments to the sector, with the focus on airport concessioning, floating of a national carrier, Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility and aviation leasing company – all as part of the roadmap to optimise potentials that abound in aviation.

Meeting with aviation correspondents in Lagos recently, Sirika said there is no doubt that the airports are in terrible shape and government has already commenced plans to give them to private investors to rebuild and manage, beginning with the international airports in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano.

It would be recalled that the workers’ unions in the sector last month staged a nationwide protest, insisting that the planned “sale” of the airports must be suspended.

The unions under the aegis of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the National Union of Pensioners (NUP) said the “sale” of airports would lead to more job loss in the sector.

Sirika, however, said that the protesters have apparently shown lack of understanding between concession arrangements and outright sale of the airports.

He said: “People are protesting against concessioning due to lack of information. I could see from the reports and their letter of protest that there is a mix up between what concession is and privatisation or outright sale of airport.”

He said while the government was not unmindful of the need to protect jobs, planned concessioning was the ministry’s best option to fast-track growth amidst opportunities that abound for Nigeria in aviation.

His words: “We are very conscious of what Nigeria is as a country. We are a people of 173milion in a 923, 678sqm of land. We are serving the West African market of 400million people and contiguous to Central Africa of 600million people. It is indeed a very interesting market for transportation and we understand that.

“But there is a total absence of a strong carrier and a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) centre within this region. It also doesn’t have a single leasing company that I can remember.

“We, therefore, think that we are in the right direction. We are in the right market. We have the potentials and the advantage to have these things in our country.”

Continuing, 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.

It would also be recalled that there has been growing concerns on the state of infrastructure at the airports, despite the Internally Generated Revenues (IGRs) and the government intervention funds in the sector.

Some foreign airlines in fact petitioned the Ministry of Transportation over appalling facilities at virtually all the airports across the country.

They called on the Federal Government to look deeply into airport terminals in order to give better services to airline operators, passengers and others carrying out both aeronautic and non-aeronautic businesses at the terminal

Sirika said such petitions, among others, justified the need to act fast on the concessioning plan, adding that the gains would far outweigh the losses as implied in some quarters.

“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.

“So, the only option that we have is to concession them. Unions are saying ‘what have we made of the ones we concessioned in the past?’ ‘We are not going to concession airports; we must leave them as they are’.

“By tomorrow, they will complain that there is no air-condition working in the terminal and it is already too hot and not like Heathrow Terminal 5 (in London). But they have forgotten that it is not the UK government that is putting its money into Terminal 5.

“The money is simply not there. We must concession and I know no other way. In 24 months we can have brand new airports with new runways and other facilities around it. We have seen it and we will concession here too,” he said.

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 concessioning.

Olowo said: “Concessioning is scratching the problem on the surface. I am for more than concession to outright privatisation.

“Telecomm, Banking, Airlines, and so on have been privatised and the merits are obvious in the market. Airports should. Lessons learnt from the case study of Bi-Courtney and few others should come handy.

“Nigeria requires three to four Airport Companies of Nigeria (ACN) to bring an end to the inefficient government monopoly. To meet the people’s sentiment, privatisation process should proceed along geopolitical zones,” he said.

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