Aviation in Nigeria: The transformation that Nigerian airports need

According to Mr. Allen Onyema, the Chairman of Air Peace, domestic airline operators are struggling with a variety of challenges, and the government should step in with support for them by designing an incentives package. He attributed their struggle to an inconducive business environment, customs import duties on aircraft spare parts, absence of tax holidays for carriers, on top of a general high cost of operations. These factors hinder the private airline investors, and culminate in a difficulty for the airlines to provide employment to boost the Nigerian economy.

Other challenges that the private individuals who invest in airlines face include introduction of bottleneck policies by the government and government agencies and the high cost of securing airport land. Airlines, whether domestic or international, require ground space from which their operations can be carried out – an airport. The minister for aviation, Mr. Osita Chidoka carried out an inspection of the Nigerian airports in December 2014. His reports revealed that, even though airports like Murtala Muhammed Airport 2 in Lagos can receive some commendation, the airports were performing abysmally, living in the denial of a progress that only the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) created.

Skytrax, the international World Airport Awards body released the full list of the top 100 for the year 2015, and again, Murtala Mohammed Airport was not to be found. Besides being the busiest airport in Africa (based on travellers coming and going through it), the airport did not make it to the top 10 best in the continent.

Yesterday, September 7, the Nigerian Aviation Handling Conpmany (NAHCO) announced its deployment of N1.5 billion worth of equipment to enhance operations of airports across Nigeria. Ahmed Bashir Gulma, NAHCO Head of Corporate Services, signed the statement, and equipment have already started to arrive into the country.

Gulma went on to state how the ground support equipment (GSE) which aim to satisfy domestic and international clients were state-of-the-art. The GSE include aircraft passenger steps, self-propelled pallet transporter, pallet transporters, belt loaders, among other such airport necessities found in the best ones globally.

Perhaps starting with the most popular – Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Nigerian airports are in dire need of a standard upgrade, inclusive of the aforementioned GSE. African airports generally are still trying to catch up to the level of airports of those outside the continent by world standards, but countries like South Africa are closer to getting there than Nigeria. SA manages to find itself at the top of airports in Africa, and by virtue of that it appears in the top 100 by Skytrax rankings.

Several elements come together to make an airport world class, and Nigerian airports would need more than equipment to earn that label. According to another Best and Worst Airports survey reported by The Guide to Sleeping in Airports, Nigeria’s Port Harcourt International, Abuja Nnamdi Azikiwe International, and Murtala Muhammed Airports are the 6th, 7th, and 10th worst in Africa.

As Mr. Onyema pointed out, the Nigerian Customs and Immigration present a factor holding the airports back. A lack of modernised equipment is another. Other factors include airport infrastructure, airport staff service, airport hygiene (dirty terminals, bathrooms…), and airport security. The top airports around the world have all been awarded in these different categories.

Minister of aviation, Osita Chidoka, further disclosed that the government has immediate plans to focus on improving the two most patronised Nigerian airports in Lagos and Abuja. This plan is aimed at earning a certification from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for 2015. The certification, however, would only be a starting point for the kind of transformation that Nigerian airports need to undergo.

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