When the first international flight took off from the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu on August 13, 2013, it was expected that four years later, the airport would be servicing at least three more international carriers.
This is because industry market analysts believe that the airlines would have international passengers from Aba, Enugu, Onitsha, Abakaliki, Nsukka, Owerri, Awka and other areas in the South East and South South zones of the country who would spend less than two hours to the airport and board their flights rather than travel about six hours to Abuja or Lagos to travel overseas.
Also there are heavy cargoes coming from mainly Asia, where many businessmen and women from the South East region import goods from and it would be easier to move such goods from Enugu than from Lagos or Abuja because of proximity advantage.
In fact, hauling goods from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport to cities in the South East is fraught with many challenges, including the loss or damage of such goods on transit, invasion by night marauders who most often maim and kill truck drivers on the highway, especially in the night.
But after the elation of that first flight by Ethiopia Airlines, which has continued to maintain that route, no other airline has started operation from the airport.
THISDAY spoke to the Manager of Enugu Airport, Mr. Mgbemene Orji, who explained why the airport has not attracted more international carriers, which also explained why even some local carriers are not operating the route despite passenger surge.
Orji explained that the airport cannot operate 24 hours because of structural deficiencies at the airport, but for now it could only operate from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm daily.
The Manager said there is no enough water for firefighting because it is difficult to dig borehole at the airport due to coal deposits. Currently the airport management buys water from tankers everyday but this is not enough to provide adequate fire cover for large body aircraft or higher number of aircraft traffic.
â€œCurrently we are building overhead tank but it is nothing if we cannot source underground water, which will be in adequate supply to meet the fire cover needs,â€ Mgbemene said.
He also noted that there are no approach lights, which are usually located at the two ends of the runway, about four kilometers before the runway. These are lights that guide the aircraft to the runway, especially in the night.
â€œOn one side of the approach to the runway, there is Orie Emene Market, which must be relocated so that the approach light can be installed. The other side of the approach is located at Abakpa Nike area of Enugu. The day FAAN engineers wanted to install lights at that area, the indigenes said they were not compensated for the land and therefore would not allow the installationâ€, he added.
The Airport Manager also disclosed that there are two masts, one owned by Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS) and the other by the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) at the Abakpa Nike end of the runway. These masts obstruct flight approach, necessitating that immediately the aircraft takes off it must bank right to avoid collision with the masts. This makes flying to Enugu airport more difficult during the Harmattan.
But the Enugu State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Ogbuagu Anikwe in reaction to the problems of the Enugu Airport said,
“The Enugu State government had never been approached by FAAN in relation to the foregoing issues. Besides, most of these concerns are actually not areas state governments can statutorily delve into.”
THISDAY learnt that more international airlines would be operating to Enugu if these obstacles were removed and the benefits of 24 hours flight operations to Enugu include more jobs for the citizens, the people travelling at their convenience and also more businesses coming to the city and environs.
FAAN believes that the Enugu State government could help to solve these problems because it would be of immense benefit to the state and its people when more airlines begin to fly to Enugu, popularly known as Coal City.
For example, Enugu stat government can settle the host community at the Abakpa Nike area so that the approach light can be installed by compensating them for the land even engage them to protect the installation and the state government can also relocate the Orie Market in Emene.
THISDAY gathered that Emirates, Qatar Airways and some international cargo airlines may indicate interest to operate from Enugu if thee safety critical equipment is installed.
â€œI am aware that there are plans by some cargo airlines to bring cargo from Dubai, Malaysia, China and other parts of Asia through the Enugu airport if the airport can operate for 24 hours. Most international airlines like to operate in the night to their hub so that they will start distributing passengers to their connecting flights in the morning. Night flights will really help the Enugu airport,â€ an official of FAAN told THISDAY in Lagos.
THISDAY also gathered that there is job to be completed on the Enugu airport runway by Julius Berger, which has been called back to site and work on the terminal building is yet to be completed.
â€œThere is a subsisting contract on the runway and work on the terminal building so the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika has called the company back to site,â€ revealed the FAAN official in Lagos.
It is the view of many in the aviation industry stakeholders that the burden of managing the airports by FAAN has become cumbersome due to depleting revenue so state governments have been supporting the agency to maintain the airports located in their areas. So it is expected that the state governors in the South East, and especially the Governor of Enugu state should give support to Enugu airport to solve the aforementioned challenges so that the airport would improve its status to the benefit of the people of the zone and the state.