With the nation’s teeming population, one expects rapid growth and development in the nation’s aviation industry; rather corruption, poor infrastructure and lack of skilled manpower seem to stunt progress in the sector, writes Chinedu Eze

Aviation industry analysts and economists agree that the least the Nigeria air transport sector could contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is 12 per cent. But currently it contributes only 0.4 per cent and they attributed this meagre contribution to the failure of past governments to harness the opportunities inherent in the sector over the years.

Nigeria has high population of air travelers but it does not have successful airlines; the country is import-oriented but it does not have big cargo airline operators; the country has diversity of agricultural produce but it does not export much. The analysts say the situation is so dire because there has been lack of vision and sincere commitment to developing the sector in the past.

Corruption

Now, revelations have indicated that the sector may be corruption-ridden with the exposure of the rot in the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Although the details of the alleged corruption in the agency have not been confirmed but penultimate week EFCC stormed the headquarters of the agency in Lagos, following a tip-off.

Acting on the information and possible bank reports, officials of the anti-graft agency were reported to have spent about eight hours, conducting searches and asking questions on the activities of critical staff of the agency, a development, which exposed the illicit activities that had been going on in the agency over the years.

THISDAY learnt that the EFCC officials quizzed top NAMA officials some of whom were detained and alleged huge amounts of money were discovered in their accounts. In continuation of the investigation, EFCC few days later arrested more officials of the agency and NAMA workers were still in shock over the startling revelations.

NAMA sources revealed that some of the officials arrested by the EFCC had gone for good, considering the alleged gravity of their obnoxious activities and “the huge amount of money they have allegedly stolen and assets traced to some of them. However, one of the officials who spoke to THISDAY denied any infraction stating that those who were innocent would be set free.

Last Sunday Air Traffic Controllers of the agency under the aegis of the Nigerian Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) declared support for the effort of the federal government through the EFCC to sanitise the aviation industry and urged government to carry out comprehensive investigation into all aviation agencies.

The controllers in a statement signed by President and Secretary of NATCA, Victor Eyaru, and Olawode Banji, respectively said the recent expose from the EFCC’s visit to the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency was shocking and an attestation to the endemic nature of the unfortunate corrupt practices going on in the agencies.

“Sadly, Nigerian Air Traffic Controllers have continuously discharged their all -important and safety critical duties with epileptic equipment of which communication at the two Area Control Centres in Kano and Lagos is mostly affected. The nation’s radar equipment, Total Radar Coverage of the Nigerian Airspace  (TRACON), after close to 10 years of its installation, has no backup to cater for period of failure.

The existing radar equipment has almost outlived its designed lifespan and requires replacement. No navigational equipment is at its best as well,” the statement said.

Airport Remodeling

Since 2012, the federal government has been carrying out the remodeling of airport facilities and has gone far to revamp most of the airport terminals, but work slowed down about two years ago and as the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) resorted to completing the on-going rehabilitation projects with internally generated revenue, work on the terminal was slowed further. But many of the airports under the management of the agency has been completed and put to use, including work on the airport terminals in Abuja, Kano, Ilorin, Owerri, Enugu, Ibadan, Kaduna, Yola, Maiduguri, Katsina and Benin.

The General Manager, Public Affairs of FAAN, Yakubu Dati, said government was also building new terminals in Kano, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Lagos and Abuja and work on these projects are at advanced stage. In Lagos, he said, FAAN had embarked on the expansion of the international terminal in addition to the new terminal that would be completed later this year or early next year. There are also other facilities like the automated car parks in Abuja and Lagos airports and transit hotel in Lagos targeted for West coast passengers who may be connecting flights from Lagos.

“The new terminal we are building in Lagos when completed will be processing about eight million passengers per annum and when combined with the existing terminal, we will have about 22 million passengers capacity per annum. Also we are building automated car park which will be completed by the end of this year,” Dati said.

He also said the agency was working towards the auditing of the four international airports in the country by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the Managing Director of FAAN, Saleh Dunoma, is putting every effort to provide the critical facilities to ensure that Nigeria passed the audit, which would lead to the certification of the airports.

However, the CEO of Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), Christophe Penninck, said for Nigeria to permanently end the airport infrastructural decay and to develop its airport facilities, it must have to privatise and he offered different models of privatisation, which include full privatisation, joint venture and management contract.

He explained that the management contract style must be run like a private sector; electricity must be constant, landing and navigational aids must be upgraded and the fiscal environment must change, as domestic airlines must get some level of protectionism.

This would give rise to the review of multi-designation of foreign airlines to various airports in Nigeria. He also said that agricultural goods must be transported by air, which means that cold room facilities must be developed at the cargo terminals.

Penninck said out of 22 airports under the management of FAAN only about four are profitable, which include the airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano and suggested that to make the other airports viable, government must consider the takeover of these airports by the states where they are located; otherwise they could be closed.

Landing Aids

But beyond the airport terminals, there is safety critical infrastructure that ensures safe flights in their takeoff and landing, which are located at the airside of every airport and these include instrument landing system, airfield lighting and others.

FAAN said that it is focusing on providing critical equipment on the airside of all its airports in order to enhance landing and takeoff of flights.

The authority noted that while it continues to work on the rehabilitation and expansion of airport terminal facilities, it has now focused on providing landing aids, not only to meet the conditions for the certification of nation’s airports but to enable flights take off and land in low visibility occasioned by adverse weather situations.

Dati explained that the authority kicked off the installation of airfield lighting at 13 airports and the work has reached advanced stage in many of the airports, adding that test-run of the one at the Margret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar was done last week and it is working perfectly, while others have reached advanced stage of completion.

He said FAAN was also collaborating with the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) to ensure that all critical navigational and landing aids were provided at the airports.

“In order to urgently install all the necessary landing aids, FAAN and NAMA are collaborating with the International Civil Aviation Organisation to ensure that the provision of airside facilities meet the given international standards.

“Some of the airports already have airfield lighting but we need to replace dead bulbs which we have almost completed. We decided to concentrate on airport development on runway and provision of airfield lighting and bulbs to enhance safety,” Dati said.

Handicaps

Nigerian airlines face tough times operating in the country because of poor landing aids, which FAAN said it is rectifying. Hopefully the agency would complete the projects in time to put an end to the huge losses domestic airlines incur on daily basis.

Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) had said domestic airlines lose over N20 billion annually to flight cancellation due to poor landing aids.

During harmattan, haze and other weather changes that hamper visibility, flights are cancelled because the visibility may be below the accepted weather minima for the various airports in the country. But according to aviation experts, if all necessary equipment were provided at the airports, aircraft can land at zero visibility and many modern aircraft have Global Positioning System (GPS), which enable them to land with corresponding instrument on ground at the lowest visibility. But the failure to provide such safety critical equipment has made it difficult for the airlines to utilise the GPS in the aircraft.

FAAN  says it is poised at this time to provide these critical facilities.  This it must do in order to earn the certification of these airports from ICAO without which many international carriers will continue to shun operating into Nigeria.