By Lawani Mikairu
The rate state governments are building and operating state-owned airports has attracted mixed reactions from aviation stakeholders.
While some stakeholders have applauded the governors for using airports to create job opportunity for their citizens, others have questioned the viability of these state-owned airports.
The latest of the state-owned airports is the Anambra State International Cargo Airport at Umueri. Last Monday, Chief Willie Obiano, Governor of Anambra State said the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport, Umueri, would be commissioned mid-July for commercial operations.
The Chief of Staff to the Governor, Primus Odili, who disclosed this in Awka on behalf of the governor said: “By July this year, possibly mid-July, the airport will be officially commissioned.
By this time, all facilities befitting of a modern international cargo and passenger airport must have been ready and in place. The airport portends good fortune for the entire South East region.
The importance of the airport cannot be over-stressed as it would boost the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the state, help traders transport their goods and services as well as a host of other benefits which can hardly be quantified.”
The Chief of Staff also said what happened on April 30 was not the official inauguration of the airport for public use, but a test-run of the runway.
He said: “On Friday, April 30 this year, we organised a ceremony where we summoned Anambra people and friends of the state to the airport for a test-run of the runway to ascertain whether it was fit for aircraft to land and takeoff. Test-run of facilities are series of routine checks before an airport is commissioned for public use.\
A lot of tests had taken place at the airport before the event of April 30; the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had carried out tests on the runway to ascertain its quality prior to the actual test-run of the airport.”
On the benefits of the airport to the people, Odili said the inauguration of the cargo airport in Anambra would ensure all cargoes come directly into the state at very reduced cost.
Reacting to the spate of building of state-owned airports, with particular reference to the new Anambra State international Cargo Airport, some aviation stakeholders who spoke with Vanguard expressed mixed reactions.
The immediate past Secretary General of National Union of Air Transport Employee, NUATE, Comrade Yinka Abioye said : “It has now become the vogue that state governments across the length and breadth of Nigeria have chosen a new vocation, which is building airports, not withstanding the merits or otherwise of such ventures.
From the point of view of a unionist, I am in full support of such enterprise since it will not only create direct and indirect job opportunities for indigenes and other citizens, it will impact positively on the economic growth of Anambra State and expand the opportunity of air travellers. Being also a cargo airport, business environment will improve so much that businessmen and peculiar traders will have the privilege of travelling straight from Anambra to any part of the world.
“This being said, it will also throw up some challenges for other airports which hitherto depend on passengers from the zone. It may affect drastically traffic flow from Asaba and even Lagos.
“Instead of travellers from Anambra travelling first to Lagos before going to China, for instance, this they can safely do in the Anambra airport thereby causing low traffic in adjoining airports”.
“On the flip side, the Federal Government may eventually get involved should the management fail or neglect to do the needful as it had happened in some other state airports where Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN , had to take charge.
“We must not also lose sight that other agencies under the Federal Ministry of Aviation will become players at the airport such as FAAN, Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Nigeria Meteorological Agency, NIMET, and Nigeria College of Aviation Technology, NCAT, Zaria, which may be the first beneficiary of the venture as local personnel had to be trained in certain aspects of airport operations and management.
“The FG should also collaborate with the State government to bring the process of establishing aerotropolis near and around the airport, which ultimately brings more development to the airport and enhance economic activities through non aeronautical sources.”
Speaking further about other states-owned Airports, Abioye said, “By and large, if Jigawa or Kebbi States can do it, why not Anambra which has more prospects of succeeding than other states”.
The former Commandant, Muritala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Group Captain John Ojukutu ( rtd) however disagreed with Comrade Yinka Abioye.
According to Group Captain Ojukutu, “how many of them ( state owned airports ) are viable? What is the passenger traffic of the airports around them?
“What are the statistics of the air passengers traffic from these states with new airports that are travelling through proximate airports?
“Most of these states have serious challenges in other social sectors that will benefit their larger populace of millions than airports that would serve few thousands of air travellers.
“Kano and Ibadan have larger population than the newcomer states capitals building airports. None of the two has recorded a significant figure of over 500,000 passengers traffic.
“Ibadan has not recorded 200,000 in any year. Anambra, the latest has its airport in between Enugu, Asaba, and Owerri; the three airports combined barely have 1.5m passenger traffic annually.
“Anambra airport competing among them would not give it more than 200,000 because of the closeness of some states’ towns; like Onitsha’s closeness to Asaba than Umueri and others’ closeness too to Enugu.
“On the other hand, what are the projected export or import cargo for the Anambra airport? The total air cargo in Nigeria is very bad at 200,000 tons at the five international airports; how much of this is the airport targeting or how much can it take from the over 100m tons with container trailers and trucks on the road?
“Airports before the new ones are counting their losses and would want concession to those who can make them viable, definitely not a government venture anywhere anymore “.
When Vanguard told him that Anambra State businessmen and traders may now decide to bring in their goods through the state airport at Umueri, instead of Lagos or Port Harcourt just to help make the airport viable, Ojukutu replied, “What value would it be from the national figures of 200,000 tons? To make the airport viable, you must have significant exports and imports. What export will compensate for the low imports?” he asked.
The former Spokesman of the defunct Nigeria Airways, Mr Chris Aligbe, while advising the Anambra State government had said that for the Anambra airport to be of “high utility and profitable, it must be designated as cargo airport, whereby the federal government would recognise it as cargo facility to enable it to take in cargo directly from overseas.
“They should seek approval for international cargo operation, they should not bother about passengers. Passengers can go to Enugu for major international flights, but they should look at cargo and seek approval for international cargo operation.
“If they can do that and begin to build on it, the airport will become attractive. For cargo, the airport will be the only one in that region, except Enugu. But if it does well as a cargo airport, it can go a long way,” Aligbe added.
The new Anambra State International Cargo Airport came to limelight earlier in the year when the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu commended the facility after a detailed inspection describing it as one of the best in the country.
Captain Musa Nuhu said : “I am amazed, almost speechless at the level of work, and the level of compliance with our regulatory requirements and also with international standards and recommended practice.
“We have gone round the airport, we have a runway of 3.7kilometers with a runway safety area on both ends of the airport of about 1000 meters. There’s no airport in Nigeria that has a racer area of 1000 meters at both ends of the runway.
“With two taxiways, we have gone to the tower; the control tower is amazing, certainly if not one of the best control towers in Nigeria today.
“We have seen the fire service station, amazing. It’s going to be a CAT (category) 955 firefighting station which will allow big planes and international flights to be landing and taking off here once flight resumes. It takes care of the need of not only the airport but also of the firefighting service.
“We have seen the emergency evacuation center, trauma center in case, God forbid, anything happens. There’s an arrangement to deal with any eventuality. I have seen the operational fence, I have seen the perimeter fence, significantly done or almost completed. Anambra means business. And I mean it when I say Anambra means business,” the NCAA Director-General said.