Airports proliferation: Catalyst for economic growth

Airports are more than runways and terminals. Airports are powerful engines of economic growth and possibility for local communities not only in Nigeria but across the globe, writes, WOLE SHADARE

More airports spring up

In Nigeria, airports are springing up at an alarming rate. In fact, cities of less than 100 kilometers are now been connected by air through aerodromes that state governments are constructing; one as a tool for winning elections, attracting economic prosperity to their states amid insinuations in some quarters that many chief executive officers in states see it as a veritable means of siphoning states’ resources.

Though the establishment of airports as critical air transport infrastructure falls within the purview of the Federal Government, making such venture viable, intrinsically, rests on the shoulders of managers in the domains they are cited. This, every so often, continues to be taxing.

Dutse Airport, Jigawa

In the next five years, virtually all the states in Nigeria will have at least an aerodrome. Never mind that many of them might not be completed while others could become abandoned projects.

Ekiti, Ogun, others breathe life into forgotten projects

While many hitherto abandoned airports have seen life breathed into them, states like Ebonyi Ogun and Ekiti airports among others are seeing neck-break speed to ensure that they are completed.

The N1O billion Anambra airport, experts said is a well-thought-out project as the aerodrome is strategically located and one that could draw traffic from Asaba airport and other neighbouring towns. Its proximity to Onitsha which is a business hub in the South East makes it very viable, unlike many others that are said to be a conduit for the alleged siphoning of government funds.

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The new Cargo Airport in Ado-Ekiti received its first aircraft, NAF 930 on Saturday amidst fanfare.  The airport was officially inaugurated on Saturday by the Aviation Minister, Haidi Sirika.

Coincidentally, the airport along Ijan-Ado road in the state capital marked the last project inaugurated for use by the administration of Dr. Kayode Fayemi shortly before he was pulled out of office as governor at a modest occasion at the Government House.

…Lagos too

The Lekki airport project which appeared abandoned is receiving the attention of the Lagos State government It is normal for state governors to dream big, achieve a high level of independence for their states, and take decisions that will boost tourism generally.

Sirika further said the Lagos state economy, which plays host to about 200 financial institutions, needs to be connected to the rest of the world.

Anambra International Cargo Airport

He made the disclosure at the Ehingbeti Lagos Economic summit last week while presenting a letter of approval for a new airport in the state.

The Minister, who acknowledged the economic potential of the state, said the Federal Government did not hesitate to approve Lagos’ request for a new airport because its rich culture, history, industries, and tourism potential needs to be linked and shared with Africa and beyond.

FAAN, NAMA overstretched

While states are building aerodromes, both the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) are in a tight fix as regards the provision of workers to man the facilities.

The proliferation of aerodromes across the country has been attributed to the dearth of air traffic controllers in the nation’s aviation industry.

Nigeria currently has over 26 airports and continuous building of airports by state governors would continue to overstretch the few air traffic controllers, as most of the facilities are handed to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and NAMA, despite the low traffic they record.

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Experts’ views

A source who spoke to Aviation Metric affirmed that Nigerian airports are powerful economic engines and reaffirm the valuable role airports play in job creation and economic growth in local communities.”

“But, airports have significant unmet infrastructure needs that threaten their ability to serve their passengers and support their local communities. With travel only expected to rise in the upcoming years, we must continue our work to provide airports with the tools they need to meet the growing demands of the future with safe, competitive, and modern facilities.”

Newly inaugurated Ekiti State airport

A former Managing Director of FAAN, Mr. George Uriesi said he had learned not to disparage the construction of airports by State Governors in Nigeria, adding that if they have the honest desire to make them work, they are a great economic gateway.

According to Uriesi who is the Chief Operating Officer of fast-rising Ibom Air stated that “If not right away, then gradually, as long as they know what to do with them, they will eventually come in handy. Uyo is a perfect example. The ‘oyinbo’ textbook prescription says that it would ‘cannibalize’ Calabar’s traffic and create two less viable airports, 10 minutes flying time apart. But alas, yes it did affect Calabar’s traffic initially, but Calabar recovered and resumed its growth side by side with Uyo, in the immediate aftermath of the Duke years (due to Governor Duke’s investments and positioning of Calabar then as the local go-to tourist destination).”

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With subsequent neglect of that strategic direction and abandonment of that trajectory, Calabar degenerated into the almost no-go place it is today, while Uyo over the last few years became the fastest-growing domestic airport. Calabar cannot blame Uyo today for its drop in pax traffic. It can only blame the economic non-strategy of the State’s government. On the other hand, Bismarck Rewane in his current macroeconomic analysis names Uyo as one of the 10 fastest-growing cities in Africa. Of course, the existence of the airport is a major catalyst for this”.

“The real problem in this whole airports thing is that the politicians usually have different motives for going into airport projects. For one, it is a ‘sure banker’ project for a Governor’s term in office. But we have to look beyond that to make good use of it when it is delivered. I am more than convinced that there’s space for every one of them to become good economic catalysts for their catchment areas if ‘sense’ is applied”.


Prototype of ongoing Ebonyi airport

Last line

Once an airport has been built, it is there. Those around it have a responsibility to apply ‘sense’ to it to make it a catalyst, rather than use it as a cash cow forever as many state governments initially tried to do for many years.

Not a few believe that investors and state governments should be encouraged if they choose to build efficient, cost-effective, and fit-for-purpose airports to reduce the colossal waste we usually see from these projects.

Wole Shadare