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The alluring aesthetics and in-built facilities at the new Lagos International Airport Terminal are a good riposte for the long wait and yearnings of modern air travellers. The long wait for the use of the terminal is over but it is one that comes with pain, chaos, and gridlock, as the multi-million dollar facility is put into use, writes, WOLE SHADARE
Making of a defective terminal
Not a few people were taken aback when the Federal Government embarked on the airport remodeling project. The government had aside from that sought $500 million loan from China to build four international terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt, and Kano. These are the four major international airports that unarguably give the country about 90 percent of revenue accruing to the country’s aviation industry.
The airport remodeling project was poorly executed by a former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah. While many were astounded by the shoddy jobs done, they were however consoled by the fact that the new international airport terminals in four locations in the country would at least make up for the decrepit terminals that were remodeled but poorly executed.
The first concern was that of Lagos airport which many considered the site to be inappropriate for such a project.
The ex-Minister was in a hurry and would not listen to wise counsel primarily because of the feud that occurred between the government and the late Chief Harry Akande who had the concession to build an aerotropolis on a piece of land granted to him but which was frustrated by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo over alleged political differences and the fear that the late multi-billionaire businessman was going to challenge him for the presidency contest.
Akande, Oduah bitter feud
The bitter feud as a result of forcefully taking the piece of land from him without compensation and amicably resolving the matter led to legal fireworks with the court upholding the right of Akande to the land concession.
Chief Akande had told our correspondent in confidence that on two occasions he sent a letter to Oduah for re-allocation of the land granted him under concession to another place to allow for the easy take-over of the piece of land but was met with hostility from the ex-Minister who failed to respond to a letter sent to her.
He said that he was ready and willing to cede the land to her for public good but her attitude and arrogance made it practically impossible for her to have her way.
Frustrated by the court ruling and with time running out on Oduah and her team at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the new international terminal was sited at the most inappropriate place without consideration for aviation bridges for wide-body aircraft.
A design problem with Lagos’ new terminal, believed to be related to its apron placement, led to delays in the project. What many did mention, but in passing, is that the new facility has been a design suspect since the last administration inherited it from its predecessor.
The same error was made with the Abuja airport where the terminal building is directly blocking the control tower and fire service station.
Air traffic control had since been taken to a mobile tower. A former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika admitted the defects of the terminal facilities in Lagos and Abuja, hinting in 2021 that it would cost the government over N5 billion to erect a new control tower for Abuja airport.
For the Lagos airport terminal, the facility lacks adequate space for full operation. Experts wondered how the terminal was in the first place conceptualised without giving a thought to bigger aircraft. More than two years after the facility was commissioned by former President Muhammadu Buhari, the terminal remains highly utilized.
AIB, hangars obstruct expansion
Sirika was on the verge of creating more space for the expansion of the terminal before he left office. In preparation for that, the Lagos office of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) was demolished to make space for expansion. The two other facilities standing in the way of the terminal are the Dominion Hangar owned by Rev. David Oyedepo and Ever Green Apple Hangar owned by a former Director-General of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren.
Two weeks ago during the inspection of facilities at the Lagos airport, Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Keyamo ordered that the two hangars hindering the expansion of the terminal should be relocated.
That may have brought smiles to the faces of people who were concerned about the non-utilisation of the terminal three years after completion.
His directive that all airlines relocate to the new terminal while the old, smelly terminal built in 1979 and has remained a shame to the country has brought a lot of pain to passengers, airlines, and other airport users despite the beauty of moving the airlines to the new facility without a well thought out plan to ease their pains.
The major challenge is aircraft maneuvering to reach the exterior that has four fingers. The new terminal is light years better compared to the old one but for its “lack of good space for aircraft to manoeuvre.
The country manager of one of the foreign airlines that pleaded anonymity said, “The airlines that currently use the facility fly narrow-body aircraft that can safely taxi to the terminal wings. Most of us fly A320s, A330s, Boeing 737s, and 777s and can get into trouble around the facility. Safety is a priority for everyone, and we all have our standard operating procedures.”
“Some of us complained to the service providers since the beginning, and I believe that they are working on expanding the apron space to admit wide bodies. Not only to park for boarding, we also need good space to make turns without clipping wings,” the manager quipped.
Since the directive to beat the Oct 1, 2023, chaos, and confusion have reigned supreme at the new terminal leaving passengers stranded, delayed, and totally confused. Passenger facilitation has been herculean. Airlines have been counting their losses as it takes more stress to process travelers at the counters.
The new terminal features 66 check-in counters, 16 arrival immigration desks, 28 departure immigration desks, eight security screening points, a multi-layer baggage sorting system, five arrival gates, six departure gates, more than 3, 000 square metres of duty-free space, approximately 5,000 square metres of lettable utility space, among others and seven boarding bridges.
It also offers two food courts, four premium airport lounges, 22 guest rooms, and a spa. Authorities had hoped that the new terminal would boost MMIA’s annual passenger capacity to around 14 million.
The MMIA new terminal did fit those descriptions of technology-enhanced facilitation space, comfort, and real convenience for air travellers. Covering a landmass of approximately 56, 000 square metres, the terminal has saved the country a huge shame of many years.
Taskforce to the rescue
Concerned about the pain encountered by users of the old terminal, the Minister set up a task force team to resolve the challenges within the shortest possible period.
The members of the task force are Hassan Musa, (Retired PS and ex-director of Dept. of Air Transport Management (Team Leader), Adebayo Oladipo General Manager Aerodrome Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Mr. Collins Mukoro (SA to the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development).
Others are Mrs. Uyoyou Edhekpo (SA to the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development and Henry Agbebire (SA to the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development).
However, the management of FAAN had to fast-track the implementation of this directive in response to the recent fire outbreak which raised safety concerns and affected passengers’ movements.
Spokesman for the Minister, Oluseyi Odutayo in a statement said, “We urge all passengers and other stakeholders to be patient and bear with us as the inconvenience caused will soon be resolved. Your understanding plays a vital role in making this transition smoother for everyone involved.
The primary objective of this task force is threefold; resolve passenger concerns as the task force is expected to work diligently towards resolving all concerns raised by passengers regarding congestion, discomfort, and related issues stemming from terminal relocation. We are committed to ensuring that every passenger’s voice is heard and addressed promptly.
The planned expansion of the terminal apron to accommodate wide-body airplanes after the relocation of the two hangars would lead to the correction of the defects of the facility but not after passengers and airlines had been put through a harrowing experience with the hurried relocation to the new terminal from the old one.