GAT Expansion: Bright Thinking

Aviation capacity is needed urgently if the industry is to cater to increased demand, writes WOLE SHADARE


With more people flying more than ever, cities around the world are building new airports and upgrading old terminals to create facilities capable of handling tens of millions of passengers. The results are modern, stylish architectural statements that banish the dark, crowded travel spaces of the past.

Political will

Politicians tend to view aviation as a political hot potato, failing to understand the benefits it can bring and the infrastructure that needs to be in place to secure these benefits.

The result is a lack of coherent aviation strategies and stagnating infrastructure. Building infrastructure must be viewed as a business decision and not a political issue.

Otherwise, the debate gets lost in endless bureaucracy. Because politicians have a four or five-year time horizon before the next election, new airport projects never progress as they should.

The decision, often a difficult one, is almost always passed on. Or, if a decision has been made, it can be reversed or significantly changed by the succeeding government. Such was the airport remodeling project that was hurriedly and shambolically done that cost so much with a substandard project left for the next administration to inherit.

Over the years, Nigeria’s major airports, the Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, have seen rising traffic. The facilities are becoming too small, thereby necessitating urgent expansion.

Lagos domestic airport terminal

Increased traffic, decrepit facilities

Statistics have shown that from the beginning of the millennium, there had been an increase in air transportation in Nigeria. This is in the areas of a number of departing/ arriving passengers, loaded freight, and arriving aircraft. Facilities provided at the nation’s international airports in Lagos and Kano are overstretched. Facilities such as seats, air-conditioning systems, conveyor belts, and toilet facilities, among others, have decayed.

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This arises as they are not upgraded based on the increase in human traffic. In Nigeria, while passengers and cargo traffic have increased, the infrastructure provided has not experienced a corresponding overhaul and expansion over the years. The Murtala Muhammed International Airport terminal in Lagos, which was modeled after Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, was built on March 15, 1979.

The terminal was, at inception, designed to process about 400,000 passengers or less. Today, the terminal processes over four million passengers, a situation that has made the terminal not only too small but one that has outlived the major reason it was built.

Not only is the terminal too small, but all the refurbishment carried out on it in the past 10 years amounted to sheer waste of resources if one takes stock of the enormous resources that would have been used to start a modern airport terminal.

Domestic traffic ‘surges’ too

The Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu, last week, admitted that much when he said that the Lagos airport was “operating at above capacity. “Lagos was launched in 1978 or 1979, how many people were travelling then and how many people are travelling now? If there is an airport that is operating above capacity it is Lagos Airport.” The same thing applies to the Lagos domestic airport, which has consistently faced over-crowding or congestion, leading to flight delays and other cumbersome processing of passengers. Domestic air traffic is growing as well and one that needs urgent remedy to tackle infrastructure decay in the area. Not a few heaved a sigh of relief when the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) disclosed recently its plans to improve infrastructure at the domestic wing of the Lagos airport by way of expanding the Z Wing of the terminal.

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FAAN steps up

Spokeswoman for FAAN, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, said the expansion project, which will commence soonest, would only hamper passenger facilitation minimally at the terminal, as normal passenger check-in will not be affected in any way. Yakubu further disclosed that when the expansion project is completed, the terminal would have been enhanced in terms of capacity, aesthetics, and passenger comfort, as the expected and expanded new lounges, will be twice what is presently on the ground. She appealed to passengers and other airport users to be patient and bear with the agency for the inconvenience till the end of the project.

The operators of the Murtala Muhammed Airport 2, otherwise known as MMA2, have been more proactive in the provision of modern facilities to aid efficient passengers’ facilitation. MMA2 is world-class and has enjoyed the patronage of virtually all the carriers because of easy access to flight operations. Experts are of the view that the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) would equally enjoy the same commendation or something close to the level of MMA2. Experts in the aviation industry are of the view that a lot needed to be done to close the gap on the aviation infrastructure deficit in the country. They are of the view that to achieve the feat, there must be a commitment to funding infrastructure.

$30 billion infrastructure deficit

It is estimated that Nigeria needs a whopping $30 billion to tackle and replace decrepit airport infrastructure at many of its airports, especially the four big airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt, and Kano. Failure to address the infrastructural deficit had continued to prevent the country from maximising the potentialities accruing from the aviation industry.
Aside from that, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said that due to the fast-growing passenger traffic projected to rise to 7.8 billion in 2036, there is the need to urgently address infrastructure challenges in order to secure the industry’s future. A former President of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Dr. Bernard Olumuyiwa Aliu, recently disclosed that infrastructure in the sector needed to be given priority in the scheme of things and must be a part of national development policy.

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Rising middle classes

Both Boeing and Airbus believe that much of that increase will come from emerging economies, citing a direct link between air travel and economic prosperity. It will be fuelled by the rise of more affluent households, especially in China and India. As Boeing’s future market report puts it, “air travel is one of the first discretionary expenditures to be added as consumers join the global middle class.” It’s these demographics – and the global economy’s shifting centre of gravity – which explain why the Asia Pacific region will become the largest air travel market in the world. In 1993, over 73 percent of air traffic was carried by airlines in Europe or North America. By 2033, that will shrink to 38 percent, as the Asian and Middle Eastern carriers take centre stage.

Last line

The decaying facilities, especially at international airports, give the country a bad image as airports are the first port of call for foreigners coming into the country. Airport infrastructures are vital to the economic growth of any nation

Wole Shadare