Nigeria: Change is in the air

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Major changes are in the works for the Nigerian aviation sector, with plans to upgrade a number of airports. Officials have also called for a review of the government’s airport concession agreements, with an aim to generate more revenue to support further development of the country’s air travel infrastructure.

In late October the managing director of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), George Uriesi, told local reporters that the federal government is planning to spend some N19bn ($120.08m) to upgrade 11 airports across the country. The facilities marked for remodeling are located in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, Calabar, Enugu, Owerri, Benin, Kaduna, Yola and Osubi.

The new programme would represent a significant change from the government’s original plan to spend N90bn ($568.8m) rebuilding the Lagos airport and renovating others, as announced in 2010 by former Minister of Aviation, Fidelia Njeze.

According to Uriesi, there is a pressing need for short-term maintenance measures. “The strategy of Njeze’s N90bn ($568.8m) has changed. We need [an] urgent solution — a quick fix to save the facilities. If we want to build a new terminal for Lagos, it will take us about 38 months. So, N19bn ($120.08m) is what we will use to patch things for now to take away the immediate pains of travellers,” he said.

At present, it is unclear who will carry out these repairs, or under what terms. The private sector could, in theory, play a large role in upgrading the nation’s airports. As Olawale Babalakin, the chairman of Bi-Courtney Highway Services, told OBG earlier this year, “The state of airport infrastructure in Nigeria is such that all major airports must be rebuilt, and the Ministry of Aviation will not be able to execute this reconstruction alone.”

In 2003 the Bi-Courtney Consortium, the parent company of Bi-Courtney Highway Services, won the concession to finance, construct and operate the new domestic terminal at Lagos’s Murtala Muhammed International Airport. The facility was completed in 2007.

Upgrades are set to begin soon at the airport in Port Harcourt, according to an October 6 announcement by Victor Arisa, the deputy general manager for public affairs at FAAN. Arisa said the renovation would include work on the terminal building. “As you know, the present terminal building is quite inadequate. The airport was constructed over 30 years ago. There has been no major maintenance of the terminal building,” he said. He added that the company carrying out the project was already on site.

Uriesi is newly appointed to his position as managing director, having been selected on October 4 to replace Richard Aisuebeogun. Uriesi was previously the director of airport operations at FAAN. Upon taking office, Uriesi noted his concern for the agency’s financial situation. “Our dwindling revenue collection presents a serious existential threat to FAAN. We are struggling to pay salaries and meet our basic financial obligations from month to month. We cannot continue like this. We are going to have to change the way we think and act in our business. Our survival as a going concern depends on this,” he said.

Changes could include cancelling concessions that have been granted to some firms to manage various aspects of the country’s airports. The minister of aviation, Stella Adaeze Oduah, during the launch of a new roadmap for the aviation sector, revealed that nearly 70% of these agreements had not met the government’s financial projections, adding that, despite these concessions, major challenges remain in the sector, including aging infrastructure and obsolete equipment.

Improvements to the country’s airport infrastructure could help Nigeria’s economy in many ways. The aviation sector’s growth potential is presently constrained due to the generally poor condition of its air facilities. Indeed, an upgrade to its airports could encourage additional international airlines to serve the country. In a much broader sense, any improvement in air transportation could boost Nigeria’s position as a regional business centre, increase foreign investment, and support the development of important individual sectors, such as tourism.

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