Airport concessions and reforms increase as aviation growth slows

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Experts in the aviation sector are optimistic that the new administration will be able to end the national carrier crisis and the frequent strikes that afflicted the industry under the previous administration of former President Muhammed Buhari. Writes LILIAN UKAGWU

During the eight years that former President Muhammedu Buhari was in office, numerous controversies surrounded the Nigerian aviation industry. The most significant crisis the industry faced in the most recent administration was the ongoing industrial action by aviation workers, which left passengers stranded numerous times.

 

Even on the final day of the administration, the controversy surrounding Nigeria Air persisted as the former aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, received the first plane of the nation’s national carrier despite an active court order of stay. Despite objections from regional airline operators who charged Sirika with contempt of court and claimed that the planes presented as part of Niger Air’s fleet actually belonged to Ethiopian Airlines, the proposed operator of the national carrier, the minister assured them that Nigeria Air would soon begin local operations.

Stakeholders think President Bola Tinubu’s administration would give the nation’s aviation sector a new lease on life and help it realise its enormous potential.

Lagos Group Captain John Ojikutu (ret. ), a former commandant of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, pleaded with the new administration to drop the idea of a national carrier for the nation. Instead, he suggested that the government create at least two flag carriers: one from the current carriers would be intercontinental and regional. He believed that doing so would guarantee the longevity and expansion of the nation’s aviation industry.

Ojikutu also urged the new administration to grant concessions for all airports, with none remaining under government control as commercial facilities. With the exception of providing recoverable intervention funds for capital projects, he claimed that this action would relieve the government of the burden of management and maintenance.

He continued by saying that this strategy would enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of airport operations in Nigeria.

The Federal Government’s planned concession of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and its cargo terminals was halted in February of this year by an order of a Federal High Court in Lagos, pending the hearing and resolution of a lawsuit brought by the Sifax Group of Companies Limited, which contested the bidding process.

Sifax filed a lawsuit against the Federal Government, the former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, former Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami, NAHCO Aviance Plc, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, TAV Airports Holding Company, and GMR Airport Limited.

However, the Federal Government authorised the concession of the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in Kano and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja for 20 and 30 years, respectively, at one of the Federal Executive Council meetings in May.

Sirika noted that this was happening at a time when the federal government was hoping to receive $797,4 million (N368.8 billion) in taxes and concession fees from Corporación America Airports, the concessionaire.

“All told, it costs about $800 million. And this is exactly how much money we borrowed to build those four airports, he said.

Ojikutu, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of Centurium Security, also issued a warning against the development of an aerotropolis on airport property because it would compromise airport security and cause an increase in insecurity.

He continued by suggesting that an aerotropolis be built at the boundaries between airport service areas and urban development areas, away from the main airport areas.

To ensure the highest level of security, he emphasised that the aeronautical services for the general aviation and cargo terminals should be located at the opposite end of the passenger terminal.

According to him, the government should be concerned with regulations and the private sector should handle maintenance, repairs, and operations as well as aircraft leasing.

He argued that “government shouldn’t be in a business that it regulates.”

Additionally, Alex Nwuba, the former CEO of Associated Airlines and president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Nigeria, called for the formation of an aviation council to aid in the revolutionization of the nation’s aviation industry.

Nwuba claims that it will be up to this council to draught a strategy that will determine the direction of the country’s aviation sector.

He stated that, if established, the aviation council will promote stakeholder input and address persistent industry pushback.

“It will give the industry a chance to weigh in on the creation of policies and suggest a structure for the interface between private and public airlines.

 

The council will also make recommendations regarding the kind, quantity, and size of airports needed to support and advance Nigeria’s aviation ambitions. This will involve looking into all available options, the future of Lagos concession, and Murtala Mohammed International Airport. The council will also develop optimisation models for the many underutilised airports in the nation and put forth fresh airline certification models that will boost airport activity, he said.

Nwuba claims that it will also consider both aviation-related and non-aviation-related activities to boost business at airports and make them successful.

Olumide Ohunayo, the Assistant Secretary-General of the Aviation Roundtable, expressed optimism about the new administration but pointed out that there were urgent problems that needed to be resolved.

Prior to the new minister taking office, he emphasised how crucial it is to review all appointments, instructions, and board announcements made in the previous two weeks to ensure maximum productivity.

In his words, “I welcome the new government and look forward to some positivity, but it is coming at a time when there is a lot of debris on the runway, which might affect the smooth takeoff of the flight of the new minister.”

He urged the incoming minister to order a staff audit of every government agency to determine the workforce’s strengths and weaknesses as well as the degree to which the federal character principle was followed.

He emphasised the value of auditing government plans to ascertain their current status and pinpoint improvements required to achieve the goals of the government.
Additionally, he requested that before beginning any new initiatives, the new administration evaluate the viability of the road map project started by the preceding administration.

In order to ensure a smooth takeoff and ensure progress in the aviation industry, he advised the new government to take the necessary actions to address those issues.

Failure to follow these suggestions may set back the industry, thwart efforts to turn things around, and impede the government’s advancement.

They must examine that and conduct a review. Before they begin, they must examine the agencies’ other plans. Knowing what has happened, where they are, and how they should move forward requires this information. And when conducting the audit, they should compare the strength and number of employees hired over the previous eight years with the federal character principle of the government to see if all of these things are in place.

He asserts that before moving forward with its plans, the new administration must conduct staff audits of the departments and agencies within the aviation ministry.

“They need to put a lot of effort into the road map project that was promoted by the previous administration before they can move forward with their plans. It might be difficult to get off to a good start if it doesn’t address these issues, Ohunayo reasoned.

While this is going on, the slow expansion of the nation’s aviation industry has largely been attributed to subpar airport infrastructure, flight delays, increases in aviation fuel, or “JetA1,” and exorbitant airfares. Travellers and investors have been clamouring for a workable solution to these problems for years.

The House of Representatives urged the Federal Government to address the broken down facilities at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.

The House specifically urged the government to provide more Airside buses and conveying belts, as well as to urgently fix the escalators and lifts at airports across the nation, during the plenary.

The House also ordered the Committee on Aviation to monitor adherence to the resolution and submit a report for additional legislative action within a month.

The former managing director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Capt. Rabiu Yadudu, spoke at the second FAAN National Aviation Conference and criticised the facilities as being outdated and insisted that Lagos needs a new international airport.

He claimed that Lagos was in need of a new terminal.

“A new terminal for the international airport in Lagos needs to be built. This whole palliative is ineffective. All parts are outdated, he said.

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