The Nigeria aviation industry, in the first quarter of 2017, may have lost its verve in terms of passenger traffic, but the government and its agencies are under pressure to chart a new course for the industry,
One of the major things that characterised the aviation industry in the last three months of this year was the closure of Abuja airport for comprehensive rehabilitation of its runway and the relocation of flight operations to Kaduna, which is now known as Kaduna International Airport. Another notable action was the takeover of Arik Air by Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON).
Owing to the controversies that greeted the planned closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, the decision was subjected to debate in the Senate, and at the end the decision of the Ministry of Transport held sway because the issue had to do with air safety, which must not be compromised.
Giventhe firm assurance by the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika and the progress of work so far, the airport may be reopened by April 19, thus putting an end to the anxiety and apprehension, which trailed the closure, as it was feared that work at the airport’s runway might be extended.
Four weeks into the diversion of flights from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) to Kaduna International Airport, for runway rehabilitation, the programme seemed to be going on as scheduled.
Sirika hadearlier said that repair work on the Abuja airport runway project was already 60 percent completed and the contractors had given a firm assurance that the April 19th deadline would be met.
To further buttress his confidence in the success of this project, Sirika at a recent meeting with Aviation Round Table (ART), offered to resign as Minister if the airport’s runway was not completedas scheduled, thus addressing the concernsby majority of Nigerians that the runway repair might be extended by 18 weeks. He also said that the only choice for thorough job to be done was to close it.
Acting General Manager, Public Affairs, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, confirmed that scores of flights have operated in and out of the airport showing its capability to handle international operations, “in line with the assurance earlier given by government that the airport would provide a veritable alternate to the Abuja Airport.”
“It is no longer news that the federal government made considerable financial provision to ensure that the Kaduna airport was adequately prepared to play this alternate role including the provision of adequate aids and other relevant infrastructure that the airport did not have. The Minister of State, Aviation, who has been in the forefront of driving this difficult transition, met with initial challenges associated with the movement, but one after another, those challenges were dealt with appropriately in the last four weeks,” Mrs. Yakubu said.
She noted that when international flight operations began in Kaduna, the challenge of getting cash when travellers arrived at the airport arose because of the absence of banking institutions, Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and POS facilities.
Yakubu added: “In response to these challenges, Senator Sirika appealed to banks and airlines to intervene and promptly they provided these facilities which have now minimized the inconvenience experienced initially. The Minister also directed the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria to provide perimeter fencing around the airport, to curtail access from surrounding communities into the airport perimeter which has ensured adequate security at the airport.”
She recalled that the House Committee on Aviation after a recent inspection of the Kaduna Airport stated that the airport met minimum safety standards, adding that while the airport continued to serve as alternative to Abuja, the necessary infrastructure to facilitate passenger movement both at the airport and from Abuja must be in place.
According to her, in addition to all these, logistics have been put in place to ensure the smooth and safe movement of passengers between Abuja and Kaduna, either by road or rail, adding that Senator Sirika said the train service is already running smoothly and that the road leading to the train station had been rehabilitated and efficiently lighted up for this movement.
AMCON’s Takeover of Arik Air
The major upheaval that has taken place in the aviation industry so far this year was the takeover of Arik Air by AMCON for its failure to service its debts. Since after the takeover, the new management of the airline seems to be at crossroads about how to turn the airline around amid the challenges of paucity of funds and low passenger traffic occasioned by the current recession. The workers are also in a dilemma about tomorrow, while government is yet to make definite pronouncement on the future of the airline.
While the events at FAAN may be a success story so far, it was not the same with airline operators, who said they have lost passengers due to the relocation to Kaduna airport. It was predicted thatairlines may have lost about N10 billionin the first three weeks of the closure of Abuja airport. But despite the loss, the airlines agreed that what was being done is critically important for safety. Airlines like Azman and Medview which operate to Kaduna before the relocation and which would continue to operate to the airport after the reopening of the Abuja airport applauded government decision to upgrade the Kaduna airport. The Chief Operating Officer of Medview, Lookman Animasaun said it was a sacrifice worth making for better airport facilities and for safety. However, they have expressed the hope that April 19 is very close and the Abuja airport would resume operation and the airlines would also resume their normal service.
Controversy over Appointments
The appointment of directors and the sack of the existing ones at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) raised generated furore in the industry. The labour unions had protested against the appointment of some of the directors, insisting they were not aviators and therefore did not have the requisite experience for the positions they were given. But the unions also commended the government for the appointment of Captain Fola Akinkuotu as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Professor Sani Abubakar Mashi, as the new Director-General, Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMeT), Capt. Abdulsalam Mohammed as the Rector of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) Zaria and Akinola Olateru as the new Commissioner, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB). These appointments they described as round pegs in round holes, but warned that sensitive appointments in NCAA should be given to those who are qualified to handle their jobs effectively in the agency.
One of the worries of Nigerian airlines is how they would face another bout of weather challenges next December, when the Harmattan haze will obstruct flights; at the time of peak flight operation, when travellers for the Yuletide troop to the airports. Last December, airlines said they lost over N20 billion within two weeks because of the Harmattan haze.
In order to avert this from happening this year, the federal government and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) are working to improve the instrument landing system (ILS) at the airports and to upgrade the major airports to Category 2 ILS to ensure that there would be flights at low visibility. According to NAMA source, the agency targets to upgrade 11 airports to Category 2 ILS before December this year.
In addition to that, NAMA has rehabilitated and calibrated navigational aids at various airports in the last three months and upgraded the voice omnidirectional radio range (VOR) at the Kaduna airport along with the ILS, which enables both local and international flights to land at the airport.
Almost two weeks before the Abuja airport was closed for runway repairs, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo had visited the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos to appraise the facilities, especially those facilities that enhance passenger facilitation and to see how visa at arrival process, which the Nigerian Immigration Service had just introduced, worked.
The acting president, as he then was, drove from the VIP section of the domestic airport through airside to the tarmac of the international wing of the airport.
He went through the security areas to the arrival hall, where he inspected the travelator and expressed disappointment that the facility was not working.
Osinbajo also inspected the carousels and toilets, before proceeding to the departure hall of the airport.
“We are doing a lot to ease the process of doing business in Nigeria, so we want to make the environment friendly, not only in the area of transportation but for everybody who wants to come and do business in Nigeria.
“The airport is one of the places where we need to ensure that facilities are working and that things are being done properly. We have come and we have looked around and seen quite a few of the equipment.
At the end of his tour, Osinbajo noted that there a lot needs to be done to upgrade the airport.
The Minister of State, Aviation also affirmed that there were things that needed to be done at the airport to enhance easy facilitation and improve the comfort of travellers: “We are here to look at these things. I agree with the vice-President. A lot needs to be done. That is why we are here”, he said.