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Setting agenda for the new Aviation Minister

By Lawani Mikairu

As the nation waits anxiously for President Muammadu Buhari to assign portfolio to his new ministers designates, there is urgent need to point out ongoing projects and projects that need immediate attention for the incoming Aviation Minister to concentrate on if the current efforts to reposition Nigeria aviation will yield positive results.

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The last Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika identified some airports that needed urgent repair work and rehabilitation. One of those airports is Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. The new minister needs to immediately commence repair work on the airport because of its strategic importance to the South East geopolitical zone of the country. Enugu is seen as the economic gateway to the abundant economic opportunities in that zone of the country.

Last Saturday, no commercial plane could land at the airport as the vital areas, including the runway, were flooded. It was 24 hours later that one of the two airlines currently flying to the airport, Air Peace, was able to conduct flight out of the airport. The other airline, Ethiopia Airline, did not operate any flight into and out of the airport.

The Enugu Airport has been in state of disrepair with very bumpy runway that is hazardous to smooth takeoff and landing of aircraft. This has posed operational risk, with many airlines, especially the foreign airlines refusing to use the airport except Ethiopian Airline that does few trips a week to the airport. This problem came to the fore when Sirika threatened in May this year to downgrade the airport and even shut it down.

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He said while addressing his 6th Aviation Stakeholders forum in Lagos that the present condition of the airport cannot be allowed to continue. According to him, the runway needs to be completely rehabilitated and not the current weekly remedial job being done there.”Like Abuja Airport, we need to close down the Enugu Airport and overhaul the runway. What we have been doing there is monthly maintenance of the runway which goes bad immediately a week later. We cannot continue wasting money there. So we will close down the airport for a period of time and overhaul the runway”, he said.

Sirika further said foreign airlines were reluctant to go to Enugu because the runway was not very safe for flight operations. According to him, “there is a market at the end of the airport runway. There is also a telecommunication mast there and on the other end of the runway, there is a free trade zone. An abattoir is also located within the airport vicinity which attracts birds. The airport is currently not safe for flight operations .”

“We are going to downgrade the airport to a local or domestic airport from its present international status. Our huge investment in the new terminal there is not yielding the desired returns in terms of patronage. We have engaged the Enugu State government several times and they promised to bring down the mast and remove all other identified obstacles, but this has not been done. I have visited the airport in recent times more than five times. We cannot continue to do remedial work there. We need to take drastic decisions and drastic measures,” Sirika added.

Some of the conditions the then minister listed for the State government to meet before the commencement of rehabilitation work by the federal government have been met by the current Enugu State governor. The new aviation minister therefore needs to commence the facelift of the airport.

There is also an urgent need to commence the reconstruction of the Muritala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos terminal building as the airport is the most viable among all the airports in the country. According to the last aviation minister, “the proposed reconstruction was a fall-out of a comprehensive study carried out by construction giant, Julius Berger Nigeria Limited. Besides the comprehensive study, airlines and other users of the terminal have over the years canvassed the overhaul and expansion of the facility.”

The minister further said that the Lagos airport which was inaugurated in “ 1979 for 300,000 passengers capacity now process about Eight million passengers. Such mismatch does not portray Nigeria as a country planning for the growth of its aviation industry.”

“The airport generates most of the income, so it is only right we give it a facelift it requires. It is incumbent on government to give attention to MMIA as the busiest airport in the country, which should be developed as a regional hub within Africa and other parts of the world. It is part of government plan to develop an aerotropolis, where airports play key roles as enablers of economic development”, he added

Similarly, the new minister has to identify and complete the rest of the 157 projects which Sirika said were embarked upon in the last Four years. Sirika explained that 134 of the 157 projects were 100% completed. He also revealed that of the “remaining projects, 14% were above 50% completion while 13% are below 50% complete giving an 80% delivery rate of the projects set about” .

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The cry by domestic airline operators that the Federal Government should stop granting multiple destinations to foreign airlines operating in Nigeria should be urgently looked into by the new minister as that has been identified as one of the factors militating against the growth of domestic airlines in the country. Local airlines market has almost been taken over by these foreign airlines.

Aviation stakeholders and experts were unanimous in their view that the Nigeria aviation was yet to attain international standard, not because solutions to the problem were not known but the will to implement the solutions by those at the helms of affairs in the aviation ministry and parastatals was lacking. What the new minister should avoid is setting up panels and committees to identify the aviation sector problems . Numerous panels and committees have done this in the past with multiple findings and solutions not implemented.

The new minister should simply call for the reports of the various committees set up under different aviation ministers and implement those that can fasten the growth of Nigeria aviation sector.

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