By JUDITH UFFORD
This is a season when people move from one part of the country to another to visit loved ones. In Nigeria as in other parts of West Africa particularly cities, roads would be jammed and the traffic busting its stem. But in more organised and developed chimes, the rail and the airports would witness more human traffic. As much as Nigerians would want to be part of the organised and developed world, they cannot lay claim to that yet as our airports are still work in progress. In fact, there is no gain saying that as a nation, we have out grown the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos as well as local airports across the country.
All over the world, countries are beginning to look in the direction of the more economic and socially viable idea of aerotropolis, a new urban development concept which was developed by US development researcher, John .D. Kasarda. The concept comprises aviation-intensive businesses and related enterprises extending up to 25 kilometres outward from major airport,with the airport as the centre.
Aerotropolis is the merging of two words—aero and metropolis. The whole idea is to find a single word to represent the emerging concept of an aviation-based development centre. People are already familiar with the concept of a hub. The aerotropolis concept however goes far beyond what we know about a hub.
The Aerotropolis is more of a commercial and social development concept, in which the airport area serves as a hub, or magnet around which other business and social development revolve.
In and around airports, there are industries related to time-sensitive manufacturing, e-commerce fulfillment, telecommunications and logistics; hotels, retail outlets, entertainment complexes and exhibition centres; and offices for business people who travel frequently by air or engage in global commerce. Clusters of business parks, logistics parks, industrial parks, distribution centres, information technology complexes and wholesale merchandise marts located around the airport and along the transportation corridors radiating from them.
As increasing numbers of these businesses and commercial service providers cluster around airports, the aerotropolis is becoming a major urban destination where air travelers and locals alike can work, shop, meet, exchange knowledge, conduct business, eat, sleep, and be entertained without going more than 15 minutes from the airport.
According to Kasarda, airports have evolved as drivers of business location and urban development in the 21st century in the same way as highways in the 20th century, railroads in the 19th century and seaports in the 18th century. As economies become increasingly globalised and dependent on electronic commerce, air commerce and the speed and agility it provides to the movement of people and goods has become its logistical backbone. Kasarda says: “most airport transportation connectivity will need to be based on public funding, and this will be expensive. I know of no significant commercial airport that has been privately built that had not received substantial public funding support, at least indirectly.”
The deal, in other words, is this: taxpayers would be expected to pay handsomely for an environment created almost entirely to serve the needs of business. If they don’t, as Kasarda says of a Britain without enhanced airports in London, “the city and nation will become markedly weakened in the coming decades”. And if the public does foot the bill, the bet might not pay off.
Perhaps, it is on this note that the federal government is pursuing with vigour its aerotropolis project. But sceptics as usually are of the view that aerotropolis will not work in Nigeria. The reasons given range from inconsistency in government policies to government political will to see projects of such magnitude through. But Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah is optimistic that the project would see the light of day.
According to her, the concept will work in Nigeria and would create fresh areas of wealth as wellas contribute its quota to the country’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP. The project she informed is expected to bring about the development of new 5-star hotels, new housing estates and luxury houses targeted primarily at pilots and air support staff and other aviation professionals; auto and technical repair shops, new medical facilities nearby,
cinemas, entertainment, casinos, hair salons, discoun shops, duty-free shops, even schools and recreation centres. Colloborating this, General manager, Corporate Communications,FAAN, Mr. Dati Yakubu noted that “the swiftness and timeliness of aviation makes it the means of choice for several areas of industry and social life” Continuing, he said, “aviation is key to a flourishing global business of growing and selling fruits,vegetables and flowers. Without the aircraft and air travel, this global business in perishable agricultural produce worth N250 billion(2010 figures) to African countries that participate, would not exist”.
According to Yakubu, another pointer to what an aerotropolis could bring to Lagos is the Ajao area whch adjoins the Murtala Muhammed International Airport,MMIA1 which for many years is the country’s major connection to the rest of the world by air. “Ajao area and adjoining Ajao Estate has one of the highest concentration of hotels and relaxation centres in Lagos. The reason is obvious. Its proximity to the international and local airports in Lagos (the country’s major commercial centre) puts it within easy reach of air travellers who need overnight accommodation and hospitality services”, Yakubu said.
In April 2013, the City of Ekurilieni, located near Johannesburg hosted the World Airport Cities Conference. Ekurilieni is a growing airport city.
How To Get There..
The recent signing of an agreement between the Chinese government and Nigeria for the building of five new modern airport terminals in the country is a big boost to the aerotropolis. Already work has commenced at the new airport terminals scheduled for Lagos MMIA1, Kano (Malam Aminu Kano airport), Enugu (Akanu Ibiam Airport), Abuja(Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport), and the Port Harcourt International airport.
These new world class airport terminals to be built by the Chinese construction giant, CCECC are designed to have air cargo sections with modern cargo handling and storage facilities. But observers are quick to query the rationale of signing on the Chinese given the slow pace of work on the 10 lane Orile-Badagry expressway project.
To this Dati responded thus: “The funding has already been sourced by the Chinese Nexim bank by the federal government. It was signed during the President’s visit to China. That takes away the problem of funding which accounts for slow of work”.
Of equal importance to the realisationof the aerotropolis project is the recovery of undeveloped parcels of land which were left for the future development of the various airports. In Lagos for example, lands that were given out under dubious conditions have been recovered through favourable court judgments by FAAN. That this translates to is that there would be enough space for physical expansion of the airport facilities as intended for the airports when the MMIA1 was built 40 years ago. A new multi-storied car park, 5-star hotel is on the cards in the vicinity of the new MMIA and is expected to be completed next year, 2014.