Of all the airports built by the state governments, only the ones in Asaba and Uyo could be described as busy. Before it was downgraded, the Asaba airport was recording many flights from four airlines a day. Flights largely from Lagos and Abuja and the airlines were recording high load factor.
The airport filled a yearning niche. The Asaba airport is located at the market hub with close proximity to Onitsha, Nnewi and Awka. At the peak of flight operations at that airport, passenger traffic always outstripped seat supply by airlines.
The Uyo airport is busy because the state government ensured that the airport is adequately utilised. When it was put on stream some years ago, the state government agreed to buy certain number of seats as incentive for the airlines to operate to the airport. But over time, there was sustained passenger traffic without government’s support.
Industry observers said the reason for this is high economic activities going on in AkwaIbom and the fact that many people from the state live in other parts of the country and often visit home. So weekend fights usually command high load factor.
If it were to improve the lot of the people and generate revenues, many states that now have airports would not have built them because they neither improve the lots of the people nor generate revenues. In fact, ordinary citizens would desperately long that his state government should build facilities that would provide them potable water, health centres, schools and power generating facility than to build these airports. In many states, the airports are a humongous amount of money that was sunk in a project that never benefits over 90 percent of the population. The money used to build these airports can provide more than 20 health centres.
The airports therefore meet just the taste of the elite, who use them to get away from the states. In many parts of the north, the state governors live in Abuja. In Kebbi for example the governor that built the airport, a very good airport at that, stayed mostly in Abuja and all the flights that take place to the airport only airlift government officials and retinue of their wives and relatives. That huge money was just invested there to suit their whims.
This is the fate of many of the state airports. No wonder why the Managing Director of Medview Airline, AlhajiMuneerBankole said the states should have consulted with the airlines before they embarked on building airports because many of those airports are idle. So building an airport by states is one of the most unprofitable ventures by state governments.
But the situation is different from the Asaba airport. The airport as earlier stated is at the centre of huge markets in the Onitsha axis of the South East and it is projected to be one of the busiest airport when the infrastructural demands expected of it as a standard airport are met by the state government.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) confirmed to THISDAY that the Asaba airport is currently downgraded to category 5 because it has not met the recommended safety and security standard so certain repair work is required to be done on its runway, so at the moment only small body aircraft like Bombardier CRJ 900, Dash 8 and other turbo props and small jets that can land there.
THISDAY learnt recently that the Delta state government has started work to provide the facilities as demand by NCAA before the airport would be upgraded to category 3 or 2 airports to allow bigger aircraft to land at there.
A source from the Delta government said the airport would end up to be one of the best airports in the country because of its strategic location, adding that the state government may consider giving out the airport in concession after work has been done to provide the needed infrastructure.
The airport was built by the immediate past governor of Delta state, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan but reports indicate that the current governmenthas identified defects and shortcomings of the airport and has engaged a construction firm, ULO Consultants Limited to carry out remedial work at the airport. NCAA safe the runway is a death trap and its length has not met the given standard so it must be rehabilitated.
Reports said some of the safety issues being addressed in the ongoing restructuring and rehabilitation include clearing, grubbing, excavation, “sub-grading and embarkment”, that is, everything that has to do with gradient reduction or downgrading of surrounding hill that had towered above the runway at height of 23 metres.
Others are the perimeter and security fencing, runway reconstruction, new taxiways, airfield lighting and general lighting of the airport with installation of about a hundred step-down transformers and a new observatory.
There are very beautiful airports built by the state government and one of such airports is the Kebbi airport. Sources said so much money was invested there but the airport is grossly underutilised and so are many of the airports built by state governments.
Industry observers are of the view that state governments should not continue to build airports to serve the interest of the elite instead of using the money to provide other basic infrastructure like schools, water and other needs.
Government should think about how to activate these state owned airports and make them viable by building businesses like metres and greeters, shopping malls and other facilities in them. This will ignite business activities and make the airports viable.