Recently, the Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, said that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved the concession of the Lagos and Abuja International Airports for better management. This was made known at the fifth Presidential Quarterly Business Forum, aimed at improving the ease of doing business in Nigeria, which took place in Abuja. However, the vice president did not name the concessionaires. It’s no news that Nigeria’s aviation industry is already experiencing a lot of problems that are embarrassing the nation and these issues need to be addressed quickly. Apart from concessioning the airports, the Nigerian government also needs to take urgent steps in training Nigerians and exposing them to flight experience.
If this is not done immediately, the country might not boast of citizens that can pilot a plane in the next 10 years. The government can also work with the private sector to achieve this. Currently, Nigeria has five international airports and 22 domestic airports. On a yearly basis, 15 million people fly in and out of the country. If the right things are put in place, the country can have between 70 and 100 million passengers annually, within the next five years. However, it is important that the concession agreement is well spelt out. Both parties – the government and private investors – need to come to a mutually beneficial agreement.
In the past, Nigeria has unsuccessfully tried to concede the Murtala Muhammed International Airport when it gave control of the airport’s Terminal 2 to Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL). This is one of the failures that need to be revisited to ensure a solid concession plan While concessioning the airports these are a list of issues that should be looked into in the Nigerian aviation sector
The facilities in the airport terminals
Most of the airport terminals in Nigeria have inadequate and poorly maintained cooling systems. Whenever the airport is jam-packed, you see people sweating. Passengers have collapsed on several occasions while waiting at the arrival or departure terminals. Most airports make use of standing fans instead of air conditioners and many of the toilets at the airports are in horrendous conditions.
Infrastructures at the airports
Nigeria has 27 airports, 22 are owned by the federal government and managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), which is actually a huge mark in the aviation sector because several African countries don’t have these number of airports. However, the major challenge in the sector is the lack of maintenance and no developmental policy to help improve the sector. Most of the airports lack the basic equipment and facilities such as passenger facilitation equipment like flight information display system, perimeter fencing, adequate fire cover and airfield lighting. It is worth noting that without airfield lighting, airplanes cannot land in an airport at night.
On Wednesday, November 30, 2016, the lifeless body of a stowaway was found in the main wheel well of one of Arik Air’s A330-200 aircraft at the Oliver Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa. This happened because the airport did not have security and perimeter fencing. This is typical of almost all the airports in Nigeria. There is also almost no good demarcation between arriving and departing passengers at most of the airports. The airports are also not well lighted in the night, which could also cause a security breach. Sometimes when there is power outage the airport remains dark until there is power supply because they do not have an effective power supply.
Currently, Nigerian airlines depend on expatriates as their engineers. The airlines pay so much to get these expatriates to work with them because their remuneration is three times higher than what they’ll pay their Nigerian counterparts. The foreign personnel are also paid in foreign exchange, which is not readily available in the country. These airlines are also not training their pilots because they cannot afford it. According to reports, the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, trains pilots, engineers and other technical personnel for the aviation industry but the pilot trained are not employed. This is because the pilots will need more exposure in flying in order to be type rated. In order words, the airlines prefer to go for expatriates.
Unfriendly government policies
Last year, about two international airlines (Iberia and United Airlines) exited the Nigerian aviation space due to the unfriendly environment for conducting business. They reportedly left Nigeria because they were unable to repatriate their revenue back to their countries as a result of a lack of foreign exchange.