Imperative of proposed aerotropolis for Lagos airport

Whatever the argument is, the truth is that Lagos airport as it is today cannot be ranked favourably with some of its peers in many parts of the world. Successive governments have promised to deliver on how to make Lagos airport rank alongside OR Tambo, Bole International Airport, Mohammed V Airport, and Casablanca but that has not come to fruition. Many hope that the planned aerotropolis of Lagos airport whether now or in the future would provide answers to the agony faced by users of the Lagos airport, writes, WOLE SHADARE

Cue from other nations

All over the world, nations are beginning to look into the direction that would turn around their airports not only for efficiency but in areas that revolutionize their aerodromes.

In Africa, aerodromes like the OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, Mohammed V Airport, and Casablanca in Morocco among others are considered the pride of Africa. Many other airports are springing up in Africa that link the airports to the city by rail.

In Nigeria, only the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja has that facility and in no way qualifies as an aeroropolis while the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos does not in any way look close to one. The airport has no trace of a rail facility, likewise does not qualify as one unless a drastic step is taken to address the rot at that airport which is said to be the country’s premier airport and the busiest in Nigeria and one that ranks as one of the sixth busiest in Africa.

Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos

In fact, there is no gain in saying that as a nation, the country has outgrown what is daily advertised as the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.

Aerotropolis as viable option?

All over the world, countries are beginning to look in the direction of the more economic and socially viable idea of aerotropolis, a new urban development concept that was developed by US development researcher, John .D. Kasarda. 

The concept comprises aviation-intensive businesses and related enterprises extending up to 25 kilometres outward from a major airport, with the airport as the centre.

Aerotropolis is the merging of two words—aero and metropolis. The whole idea is to find a single word to represent the emerging concept of an aviation-based development centre. People are already familiar with the concept of a hub. The aerotropolis concept however goes far beyond what we know about a hub.

In and around airports, there are industries related to time-sensitive manufacturing, e-commerce fulfillment, telecommunications, and logistics; hotels, retail outlets, entertainment complexes, and exhibition centres; and offices for business people who travel frequently by air or engage in global commerce. Clusters of business parks, logistics parks, industrial parks, distribution centres, information technology complexes, and wholesale merchandise markets are located around the airport and along the transportation corridors radiating from them.

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 As increasing numbers of these businesses and commercial service providers cluster around airports, the aerotropolis is becoming a major urban destination where air travelers and locals alike can work, shop, meet, exchange knowledge, conduct business, eat, sleep, and be entertained without going more than 15 minutes from the airport.

Commitment

Perhaps, it is on this note that the federal government is pursuing with vigour its aerotropolis project. But sceptics as usual are of the view that aerotropolis will not work in Nigeria. The reasons given range from inconsistency in government policies to government political will to see projects of such magnitude through.

Former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah tried as much as she could to see the project come to fruition but lacked the political will to bring it to fruition. Critics shouted her down, frustrated the project until she was sacked from office by former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika caused a stir two weeks ago when Aviation Metric exclusively reported that Sirika had concluded plans to begin the implementation of the sector’s roadmap.

As part of the Ministry of Aviation’s road map for the aviation industry and particularly for Lagos, the office spaces occupied by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) are to be demolished to give room to the ambition of turning the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos to an aerotropolis.

The ramshackle former headquarters of FAAN in Lagos before all the agencies were relocated to Abuja a few years ago had long been a subject of demolition as the few workers still left in Lagos may be relocated until the completion of offices, hotels, cinemas, spars and all other facilities that would turn the airport into a business city.

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika at the Aviation Breakfast Meeting recently, with the theme, “Aviation in Nigeria: What Next? held at the Eko Hotels organised by Phillips Consulting Limited (PSL) said the airport city in Lagos had been designed to link the old airport with the new airport by rail and also to develop all the areas where FAAN, NAMA, and others have those structures to completely give them out and to put a private sector initiative there for offices, hotels, cinemas, spars among others.

Nigeria’s Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika

 

He noted that in spite of the roadmap, all the plans had been developed, all the consultancy services given and all the works had been done and given to the private sector and for entrepreneurs in the aviation industry that are interested.

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However, the various aviation unions had kicked against the project, arguing against the timing of the project.

A coalition of aviation unions made up of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) and the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP) faulted what they described as muddling up of the Ministry of Aviation its roadmap project and the delay in executing many of the projects.

Unions kick

The unions recognise some of the successes achieved under the current administration but the failure to deliver any of the programmes in the Aviation Road Map and the rush to quickly put something on the table for Nigerians call for concern.

”The projects include the establishment of a national carrier, Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul, aircraft leasing company, agro-allied airports, aerotropolis, and concessioning of the four major international airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, and Port Harcourt. For inexplicable reasons, none of the above projects has been delivered up till now.

“It is therefore not surprising that the Minister is presently in frenzy in an effort to deliver these projects, being that this administration is at its twilight. This rush to deliver at all cost has expectedly occasioned suspicion and a plethora of missteps which if not corrected will spell doom for the aviation industry in Nigeria, and which may prove exceedingly costly to amend in future”.

Minister maintains stance

But Sirika hit back at critics of the action of the Federal Government to demolish some buildings belonging to some aviation agencies to give room for the rail system to link the domestic with the international wings of the Lagos airport. Speaking last week in Lagos at an occasion to appreciate the relentless work by workers of FAAN and other stakeholders to the completion of 18/L of the Lagos airport runway, the Minister said the unions formed the majority of the stakeholders called when they rolled up the roadmap.

Sirika thundered when asked the reasons for the demolition of structures for his project, “So, the ramshackle headquarters of FAAN built with wood and got burnt twice is developed? These are projects that we are empowered to carry out. We will carry stakeholders along, it is their right to know. We will not do it under the table. I have not been known for that neither is anything that the law does not provide for. It is good to demolish a building to make it better.

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Aviation unions protest

“Nobody should stop us from doing what is good for our industry. Anything you bring new people will resist and it is nothing new. We are human beings. We will serve them better. We will do the right thing. Posterity will judge whether we are taking the right decision or not. My concern is for the 200 million people that decided to vote for us. We will serve them; we do those policies that are good. Let somebody come on May 29 and reverse those things that we have done. We will see what stakeholders will do”.

Speaking on the danger of his successor not continuing with some of his projects, Sirika explained that it would be near impossible not to do so, explaining that many of the projects are projects that would impact positively on the development of the sector.

“When I came in as Minister from 2015 to 2019, the first time as Minister of State, we met some projects at 20 percent; we met a lot of challenges including the lack of sewage, lack of water and they were in the masterplan of the airport. I wanted to abandon some of the projects but President Muhammadu Buhari asked that the private sector should finish and get back their money. We finished and deliver them 100 percent. As long as you put in place the mechanism to ensure that whoever comes, then you are guaranteed that they would continue with it. Be rest assured that the mechanism is in place to ensure that whoever comes that nothing happens to them”, he added.

Last line

Whatever the arguments for or against airport development and whatever the divide one belongs, one thing is sure; the Lagos airport which is the country’s premier airport will not perpetually be in its current state. Whether now or in the future, something must give to have an airport of the dream of many Nigerians where the rail system as it is done in other climes will link the various terminals from Ikeja or Oshodi; where all ramshackle structures give way to modern facilities and one that would truly restore our image as Nigerians who desire good things of life.

Wole Shadare