By Lawani Mikairu
There has been mixed reactions in the aviation sector since SleepingInAirports.net, a travel website that reviews the best and worst airports in the world, rated the airports in Port Harcourt, Abuja and Lagos as the first, seventh and 10th worst respectively in Africa. The question many stakeholders have asked is how do you rate an airport undergoing repairs or remodeling.
It would be recalled that the Federal Government embarked on an ambitious project of constructing five new international terminals at the nation’s five international airports including Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu three years ago during the tenure of the then Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah .The deplorable state of our airports then, prompted the launch of the Airport Re-modeling and Rehabilitation programme in 2012, which is on-going.
Airports all over the world are normally rated annually by SKYTRAX using 5-Star Airport rating recognised as the global Benchmark of airport standards. According to SKYTRAX, the prestigious 5-Star Airport rating is awarded to airports “achieving the highest, overall quality performance. This 5-Star Airport rating recognizes those airports providing excellent facilities for customers, which combine with high quality airport staff service.”
Airport quality ranking “covers front-line areas for departures, arrival and transfer, including airport facilities, customer service, security, immigration, shop outlets and food and beverages facilities . Some of the other factors consider include queuing time, terminal cleanliness, terminal seating, terminal signs, food Beverages, Airport shopping, wifi connectivity, Airport staff.”.
Will it be fair or professional to use these parameters to access Nigeria airports that are undergoing remodeling ? It will be practically impossible to expect terminals that are being repaired to maintain the same world acceptable cleanliness, The Port Harcourt International Airport, for instance currently carry out some of its functions from tents erected because of the reconstruction currently taking place at the airport.
The current rating of world best One Hundred airports released by SKYTRAX shows Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong rated number one. Munich Airport in Germany is rated number two, Seoul Incheon International Airport, in South Korea is rated third in the world, while Singapore Changi Airport is rated Fourth , and Tokyo Haneda International Airport, Japan is rated fifth.
Previous World Airport Awards winners include King Shaka International Airport, Abu Dhabi International Airport, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Auckland International Airport, Bangalore International Airport, Barcelona Airport, Beijing Capital International Airport, Cape Town International Airport, Central Japan International Airport, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Copenhagen Airport, Doha International Airport, Dubai International Airport, Düsseldorf International Airport.
“Airports do not have to be large hub facilities to achieve the highest 5-Star and 4-Star Airport ratings. The rating assesses each airports target market and customer base, to determine it’s Quality success in that area. For example, a small regional airport serving point-to-point to routes is not expected to offer the same facilities as a global hub airport, but both airport types are eligible to meet the top tier, 5-Star Airport rating.”SKYTRAX said.
The federal government has rejected the report which placed the Port Harcourt International Airport, at the top of the worst airports in the world. The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Aviation, Hajia Binta Bello, said the survey conducted by SleepingInAirports.net, was not reflective of the reality of Nigerian airports.
The website annually conducts a survey by asking air travelers to rate their airport experiences based on services and facilities available within the terminal, cleanliness, customer service, comfort and their overall airport experience.
According to the website, “voters suggested that apart from being the worst airport in the world, the Port Harcourt Airport should also be crowned the most corrupt airport in the world.”This is the first time a Nigerian airport would be ranked among the world’s worst airports on the website.
Reacting during a recent seminal organized in Lagos the permanent secretary said Nigerian airports are not as bad as portrayed in the survey. Mrs. Binta admitted that while there were challenges at some of the international airports owing to construction works that are ongoing, the challenges would be over as soon as the projects are completed.
She revealed that the ongoing new terminals in Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt would be completed and commissioned by the first quarter of next year.
On the airport rating, she said, “It is up to readers to agree or to disagree on the rating. When I saw the rating, the question I asked is that do we still have touts at the airports, are our airports dirty, are we corrupt, do we agree with all those questions? It is something that I cannot categorically say, ‘yes we are corrupt, our airports are not clean, our airports are congested, and so on’. I am sure you can see if these airports are actually dirty, if they are full of touts and if they are chaotic.”
“This morning I flew in through Abuja airport and about five airlines were boarding at the same time. I did not see any chaos there, it was a smooth operation, passengers were going in their various buses assigned for the airlines and the whole operation was very smooth”.
“So I cannot accept that the airports are dirty, just as I cannot accept that the airports are congested. If we have a temporary challenge because of the construction of terminals that are going on in Abuja for instance, we all know that there is a lot of work going on there. If we have temporary challenge, it is something that will come to past immediately the terminals’ re-modeling is completed”, she added
Reacting also, the General Manager ,Public Affairs, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, Mr Yakubu Dati said “On this controversial ranking or allegation, the Authority wishes to align itself with the position of the Supervising Ministry of Aviation, made through the Permanent Secretary, Hajia Binta Adamu Bello, as already reported in various newspapers.”
“Our stand therefore is that the said ranking was unfounded as it did not take cognisance of the fact that the Port Harcourt Airport terminal was still undergoing remodelling with some of its terminal operations still conducted in a temporary structure (tent). Apart from the on-going remodelling of the existing domestic terminal, from which both international and local flight operations are conducted, construction work is also in progress at the site of the new international terminal, among other projects at the airport.”
“We sincerely believe that operations at such an airport, where construction work is going on simultaneously with normal flight and related operations, cannot be as conducive as those in airports where there are no on-going construction projects. Neither can environments at such different scenarios be equally “clean”.
“The Authority is aware of the enormous challenges posed by the peculiar operational situation at the Port Harcourt International Airport and that is why it has taken several measures to alleviate the difficulties faced by passengers and other airport users at the airport. One of such measures included closing down one of the tents and moving operations there to some sections of the remodelled terminal, even when work in those sections were not fully completed.”
There is a big relief however as the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Engr. Saleh Dunoma, has expressed the hope that the new Port Harcourt International Airport terminal and the remodelled old terminal would be commissioned in 2016. He made this remark on October 29, 2015 when he paid a working visit to the airport to supervise the on-going construction works at the airport.
The FAAN boss acknowledged that this laudable project has obviously created some discomfort to the travelling public and other airport users. He craved the indulgence of the general public while the construction works would last at the new ultramodern international terminal and the remodelled old terminal, which would be commissioned simultaneously in 2016; noting “that the project would increase capacity and ensure delivery of efficient services at world-class standards and best practice as prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO.”
He also assured the general public that FAAN would continue to “ upgrade facilities at the nation’s airports to ensure security, safety and comfort of all airport users. “