Incessant Fire Outbreaks at Lagos Airport

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Since this year there have been at least 11 fire incidents at the international terminal of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.

Although the incidents disrupted activities and damaged facilities at the terminal, no life was lost. The fire incidents that sometimes lasted for hours threatened safety at the Lagos airport.

As the major speaker at this year’s Akwaaba Travel Market Aviation Conference in Lagos on Monday, Richard Aisuebeogun noted that one of the major setbacks to airport development in Africa is incessant power outages. Aisuebeogun who was a former Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), said that many airports in Africa rely on secondary power instead of primary power supply and remarked that it was one of the problems retarding air transport in Africa.

FAAN has critical problem with power supply. In many of the airports under its management airlines do not operate after 6:00 pm. Only six out of the 22 airports under the FAAN management do night flight operations.

But the incessant fire outbreaks at the international terminal of the Lagos airports indicate that it is just a matter of time that a tragic conflagration would take place. The consequence of this is that airlines and other companies that operate at the terminal and at the airport would be paying high insurance premium.

About two months ago, a bank branch at the airport was gutted by fire, but this happened in the night when the bank had closed for business, leaving only few officials, including security personnel. According to eyewitness account, the fire that gutted the bank sent smokes all over the terminal, emitting acrid smell and destabilised activities at the facility. The incident affected activities at the airport as passenger processing were paralysed.

This is the risk airport workers take every day at the terminal. Inside source said that what is painful about the incessant fire outbreaks at the terminal is that it has been happening for a long time and FAAN management has failed to find a permanent solution to the problem.

THISDAY learnt that there are always disagreements between the engineering personnel and the FAAN management over issues relating to rehabilitation of electrical equipment. While FAAN management alleged that the engineering department simply wanted to extort money from the management” the engineers often accused the management of unwillingness to provide money for the overhaul of the electric system at the airport terminal.

A senior official of FAAN who has worked for several years at the terminal told THISDAY that some of the electrical equipment needed replacement, disclosing that FAAN management planned to rehabilitate the electrical system at the terminal in phases.

“FAAN management wanted to do the rehabilitation in phases, but when you make the first changes and leave it for a long time it will rapture. The last fire incident was sparked off by fire interchange. The problem we have is funds. For us to improve the situation, there should be total replacement because all the equipment is ageing and you cannot replace one and leave the other. They should be all replaced,” he said.

The source admitted that some of the problems that gave rise to the fire were due to human error, which good supervision would have eliminated, adding that FAAN would have to prioritise the total rehabilitation of the whole electrical system at the terminal. He added that the matter is now being addressed by the FAAN management and expressed the hope that the problem would soon be solved.

THISDAY investigations however revealed that the problem might be far from over because FAAN said it could not afford the funds needed to carry out comprehensive rehabilitation of the power system at the terminal.

On the increasing demand of electricity due to expansion and increase of activities at the airport terminal, the FAAN source said the management had made provision for that.

“There is expansion to take care of the additional businesses that have come into the terminal but we have not finished the connectivity, so we still have hiccups. Caterpillar and Matric engineering installed six generators for us and we still have two older generators that are still working so we have enough backups,” the officials said.

He noted that contrary to what many people believe, the incessant fire out break at the airport was not caused by underground cables because the cables had been taken care of.

“The problem now has to do with the panels. For example, the spares to the equipment that supply power to the avio bridges cannot be sourced now because the company that produced them had since stopped production of such equipment. We have decided to change the sittings of that equipment. We have applied for funds from the headquarters but we have not received their response yet. What is good about this is that we have the manpower to effectively carry out the jobs,” the official also said.

But there has been a protracted allegation in FAAN that engineering personnel sometime sabotage the electrical equipment so that money would be made available to replace that equipment. A FAAN official once told THISDAY, “These engineers bring bogus bills and when you protest they will abandon you, so when outages like this occur and it is reported, Presidency will be hard on FAAN and the agency will quickly sign the engineers request for funds.

But what the engineers don’t know is that this incessant power outage and fire are part of what made government to consider giving out the airports in concession because almost all the time things don’t work well at these airports. When the concession takes place, the engineers will also lose their jobs,” the official from the agency headquarters told THISDAY.