Nigeria’s plan to make its airports attain hub status in West Africa has remained a work-in-progress as authorities struggle to fix infrastructure, provide border controls, strong carriers and intermodal transportation facilities. But, hope has appeared in the horizon following recent collaboration between Lagos State Government and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to remove likely hurdles to the hub’s attainment on the corridor to Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, writes KELVIN OSA-OKUNBOR.
Nigeria’s desire to achieve hub status for some of its international airport terminals is gaining ground. Over the years, the government has continued to invest in modern infrastructure that will make travels less cumbersome.
The drive to make the terminals an hub has engaged the attention of successive administrations, resulting in the upgrade of some. Besides, experts said the collaboration between the Federal Government and the Lagos State Government in providing intermodal facilities, including a light rail project, would go a long way in driving the hub ambition for the airports.
To achieve such status, the government a few years ago started the implementation of the Aviation Sector Roadmap, part of which is the construction of a light rail at the Lagos Airport linking the three terminals to facilitatemovement within and around the airport.
Recently, the Lagos State and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) engaged in strategic discussions aimed at developing infrastructure at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.
Specifically, the deal was to build an inter-modal rail system that would link the domestic wing with the international wing.
FAAN Managing Director Captain Rabiu Hamisu Yadudu said the agency had invested massively in airport terminals’ upgrade of airports.
“We have had discussions on strategic plan for infrastructure at many of the airports considered viable. We have met Lagos State on strategic discussions on infrastructure. We want rail to go through the local wing of the Lagos airport to the international wing and link the city with the airport much later when the project comes on stream.
“Inter-modality is the use of several transport modes in one trip when the transport modes are coordinated.
“There are indications that the airport authority wants to emulate the massive rail transport system in Abuja which would make passengers commuting easier,’’ he said.
He categorised infrastructure at an airport into two – airside and landside infrastructure and that airside infrastructure accommodates and facilitates the movement of aircraft around the airport and includes facilities like aircraft parking aprons, taxiways, airfield lights and signs, navigational and visual aids, runways and others.
Landside infrastructure, he said, include access roads, parking lots, garages, aviation and non-aviation related businesses, support and terminal buildings.
FAAN has sought the assistance of the Lagos State Government to remove hurdles to enable it construct a light rail project linking the three terminals at the MMIA, Ikeja.
He listed the hurdles to include the relocation of a Mechanic Village along the Oshodi/Airport Road; incursion into the Right of Way on the rail corridor and development on FAAN land around the airport.
Only last month, the Federal Government announced plans to engage a reputable Transaction Adviser (TA) to develop a light rail to link the terminals at the MMIA in line with the Public Procurement Act.
The private sector concessionaire selected for the project, it was learnt, is expected to abide by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) Establishment Act and the National Policy on Public-Private Partnership (PPP).
The experts, who included the Chief Executive Officer, Belujane Konsults, Mr. Chris Aligbe; Chief Executive Officer, African Aviation Services Limited, Mr. Nick Fadugba; Chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Captain Meggison, said the airports’ upgrade was not sufficient, adding that there was the need for strong carriers.
Also, they said the government needs deliver modern airports with transit facilities for passengers to connect flight from one corner of the world to another.
Part of the mesures, they said, include facilitation of passengers by border control agencies, including the Nigeria Immigration Services (NIS).
Aligbe identified the absence of strong indigenous carriers as one of the reasons Nigeria has unable to develop hubs.
He said though Nigeria is blessed with with a good geographical location, it is not enough to make it an hub as this development goes beyond geography encompassing strong carriers to distribute passengers.
He said other African countries used their carriers to develop their airport into strong hubs for the distribution of passengers on the airline network they belong to.
Meggison said airlines have a major role to play in developing hubs.
He cited the Ethiopian Airlines which played a major role in making Addis Ababa a strong hub in the Horn of Africa region.
He said Kenyan Airways has also assisted in developing Nairobi into a strong hub for East Africa.
Egypt Air, he said, has developed a hub around Cairo just as South African Airways has also developed a hub for Johannesburg.
He said: “But a country needs more than the advantage of geographical location to become a hub.
“Now, if you take geographical advantages into account, Nigeria ought to be a hub. But then what really determines a hub is the quality and the capacity of the major carrier in that country.
“It is not the population, it is not even the strategic location as it were. KLM is from Netherlands. How many people are in Netherlands? How many KLM passengers are going to Netherlands? But because the country has a very big carrier that has wide network, the airline has made Amsterdam a hub.”
He said Nigeria could become a hub if it had strong airlines that could distribute passengers from Europe, Americas, Asia and other destinations outside the continent to various parts of Africa.
“Nigeria can become a hub if it has two or three airlines that are very strong. Even if one is not strong enough, but an airline that can create a feeder network for passengers to different parts of the continent.
“Ethiopia is not strategically located as it were, but because they have a very strong carrier, Addis Ababa has become a hub. So, it is the airline or the airlines that make a hub. For Lagos to become a hub, besides the facilities that will enable it to become a hub, like good airport, modern transportation facilities, the airline must be big enough to have network of routes and feed other airlines.”
Despite its huge population, Fadugba said Nigeria lacks terminals that can accelerate seamless transit for passengers on domestic; regional and international flights.
He said besides facilities for passengers’ transit; Nigerian carriers are not strong enough to attract global partnership to offer passengers reliable services on routes beyond point-to-point.
Being a point-to-point carrier, Fadugba said was no longer fashionable among global carriers.
In an interview in Lagos, Fadugba said the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja were yet to qualify as hubs for West Africa because they do not command the kind of facilities that would attract global carriers as transit terminals to connect passengers to any where in the world.
Fadugba said global carriers are attracted to airports with modern facilities where turn around time is swift; services are reliable; airlines could refuel and enjoy economies of scale.
He said the weak status of many Nigerian carriers with limited aircraft fleet; unreliable schedules and lack of capacity to share interline and codeshare agreements with global carriers continue to undermine the drive for hub status for its airports.
Fadugba said airports in Accra, Cairo, Casablanca, Dakar, Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Johannesburg have developed modern infrastructure and processes to attract global legacy carriers with intimidating aircraft fleet and network; Nigerian airports needed to be reworked to accommodate attractive hub facilities.
He said: “Nigerian airports still have a long way to go to become significant hubs in Africa ; because they have inadequate facilities that will facilitate seamless passengers’ transit.
“The government needs to tear down and build a modern terminal at Lagos Airport with at least three runways that will facilitate seamless connectivity.
“The government needs to urgently look at land facilities at the Abuja Airport and at least build two runways for easy connectivity.
“Developing an airport hub is not by accident but through careful planning and strategy. To achieve this, the government should look at airport size, and the readiness of the airspace to accommodate the exponential traffic that it will trigger if modern facilities are put in place.
“This is what other countries have done by empowering their airlines; modernising their fleet; securing operational agreements and partnership to position them as catalyst for economic development.”
He said: “And we do not have any airline to cut on, put together all the airlines we have if we tell them to come together to form one airline, they are still not large enough to contend with South African Airways, Kenya Airways or Ethiopian Airlines.”