Addressing the Airport Infrastructure Deficit


The International Air Transport Association has called on member states to improve their airport infrastructure in order to secure the aviation industry for the future. Chinedu Eze x-rays the efforts being made in Nigeria to modernise airport facilities for the projected double growth of passenger traffic from 2023

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said that due to the fast growing passenger traffic projected to rise to 7.8 billion in 2036, there is need to urgently address infrastructure challenges in order to secure the industry’s future.

In Nigeria, it is also projected that passenger traffic will more than double to about 35 million per annum by the same period.

Obviously it has become inevitable that airport facilities must be expanded and modernised to take in the high passenger growth.

Airport Privatisation
The Director General of IATA said: “Having the infrastructure to grow is vital to our industry’s future. But in many key places, it is not being built fast enough to meet growing demand. And there are worrying trends which are increasing costs. One of these is airport privatisations. We have not found the correct regulatory framework to balance the interests of the investors to turn a profit, with the public interest for the airport to be a catalyst for economic growth. All the optimism supporting strong aircraft orders will mean nothing if we don’t have the capability to manage traffic in the air and at airports.”

He stressed the lack of airport capacity in many countries and saying, by 2036, we expect 7.8 billion people to travel (up from 4.3 billion expected in 2018). Of the 3.5 billion trips to, from or within the Asia-Pacific region in 2036, 1.5 billion will touch on China. “As early as 2022, China will be the largest single aviation market. India is another emerging power-house—even if it will take longer to mature. And nearly equal potential could be realised as the Indian aviation market continues to develop”, he said.
Also in Africa, Nigeria is expected to have the highest number of passenger traffic in the continent in cognition of its huge population and the mobility of its citizens.

In a recent workshop organised in Lagos by the Aviation Round Table (ART), the former Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren reiterated the call for public, private sector partnership and noted that Nigeria has the population; it has the travelling public, so every airline that comes to Nigeria makes money, noting that the country has tremendous amount of potential.

Demuren said that the private sector must be brought in to develop aviation infrastructure but government must have to show commitment and encourage private investment.

“Every state must have commitment for aviation, but nobody will invest in your country unless you have corporate governance. Nobody will invest in your country if he knows he will go into litigation when he commits his money to projects. Infrastructure plays major role in aviation and aviation is the engine of economic growth,” Demuren said.

Concession as Alternative
IATA said that the major challenge of airport development in Africa is that states are unwilling to vote funds for modernisation and expansion of airport facilities; rather, states are inclined to concession.
The Director-General of IATA, de Juniac in an interview with THISDAY described concession as mixed bag, which must be managed with care.

Juniac stated: “What we say is that we want governments to be cautious about privatisation of airports. We say to them, be careful because privatisation of airports has not led to cost efficient, technology efficient infrastructure. The experience we had from Australia, from Chile, from Europe is not convincing. So we say, beware. Of course, we understand that to run the airport as operations, privatising or even concession is much better than having civil servants doing the job, that’s for sure. Then we come to the process of choosing the concessionaire, which in many countries is based on the man who is buying at the highest price. So it means that the cost increases, at the end of the day the bill is sent to the airlines. And we say in the choice of the concessionaire, they always should look at other criteria.

“We favour privatising the operation through the concessionaire with a process that is not only based on choosing the man who is paying the highest price, we say to government, be cautious about privatising the ownership of the infrastructure, be careful because you may privatise a local monopoly that may go out of control. If you do that, be able to implement a strong regulatory body. And, frankly, there is nowhere in the world, perhaps, except in the UK, that the regulation has been successful.”

On concession, IATA has noted that there is a tendency to concession airports to the highest bidder without ensuring that the company has the ability to effectively manage the airport, provide on regular basis the expected innovations, expansion and facility upgrade. The world body also noted that when such airport is given to the highest bidder the company may increase charges in order to recoup its investment in a short period, thus over taxing the airlines, which increase is subsequently passed to the passengers as part of the fares.
IATA said that all these charges build up exorbitant fares charged passengers in most African countries which tend to scare people out of the airports. This, it said, explains why in Nigeria with a population of about 180 million people, passenger traffic is still about one percent of the population.

Airfield Facilities
Industry experts have observed that most concessions do not provide for the funding of airfield equipment, including navigational aids, airfield lighting, approach facilities, communications and radar equipment. These are basic infrastructure needed for safe flight operations.

There is also the issue of meteorology equipment, as weather report is very critical for safe flight operation. In Nigeria there have been significant efforts to provide meteorological equipment, including low level wind shear detectors, research laboratories and others.

Experts linked flight cancellations, flight delays, lack of profitability of airlines and menace of weather to poor infrastructure and lamented the failure of government to take the right policies at the right time and also to implement the policies that would grow the sector.

Government’s Efforts
Industry observers agree that government has shown commitment to airport development but it is yet to meet the needs of airport infrastructure and called for greater commitment of funds to modernise airport facilities. Observing that government may not be able to provide the needed funds, they said that government must initiate policies that would encourage the private sector to invest in airports. They also called for reviewing of existing regulations to remove hindrances to private sector participation in the development of airport infrastructure.
The Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Captain Fola Akinkuotu spoke about how government is funding the installation of navigational aids.

“One of the technology innovations that have come up includes things like the Performance Based Navigation (PBN). This has also lowered the visibility minimums. We have it in 18 of our airports but as we speak only the foreign carriers utilise it because of the kind of corresponding equipment that they have onboard their airplanes. We have PBN at least in 18 of our airports,” Akinkuotu said.

On providing power to the navigational aids, NAMA boss said: “Pertaining to power, we had reported earlier that we are putting solar panels in a lot of our airports; not only because of outages but also because of the cost of generating power from generators. There are some navigational aids in some stations that run on generators for 24/7. There are certain remote sites of navigational aids that we have to power all the time by generators. So to lower the cost of operations for us, we started installing solar panels in 2017.

“Of course if we have power from the grid the solar panel will complement public power supply. But then we have to make sure we perfect the system. Solar technology is good and it would be cheaper for us but we have to understand the underlying technology. To take power from the sun we have to energise the panels and store energy in batteries to supply the power when they are required. Because sometime the sun may not be up in the sky it becomes necessary to store solar power in batteries so that it can be utilised at anytime. The power demand by the equipment is 24/7. So solar can serve as effective alternative.”

Fuel Distribution
One of the snags of fuel supply to Nigerian airports is the sluggish supply of aviation fuel, which hinders smooth and timely operation of flights.
Inadequate supply of aviation fuel creates uncertainty in flight scheduling. Passengers going to the airport to travel were not sure when and if the flight would operate.

Airline operators have called for the reviving of the pipeline that supplied aviation fuel from the depot at Ejigbo to the Lagos airport and the rebuilding of fuel hydrants located at the airside of the international terminal. Then new ones should be built at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) and the domestic terminal (MMA2) at the Lagos airport.

The CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi told THISDAY that trucking fuel from Apapa to the airport is a big hindrance to fuel supply. He noted the traffic gridlock that delays movement of fuel and the fact that the product is accompanies by debris which have to be filtered before it would be transferred to the aircraft in order not to jeopardize safety harm smooth flight operations.

It has been acknowledged that poor fuel supply is one of the drawbacks of the growth of Lagos as a major airport in Africa.

Aircraft Maintenance
Any major airport in the world that could be dubbed a hub always has a major maintenance facility around it. All the international airports in Nigeria have failed in this. So part of the infrastructural needs of Nigerian airports is major maintenance facility. However, Aero Contractors has raised hope with its maintenance facility, which has started conducting major checks on Boeing B737 Classics. It is expected that the federal government would help the airline to boost the facility and that would be an answer to having a major Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) organisation in Nigeria.

With the new terminals at the five major airports in the country, the federal government has shown strong commitment to the development of airport infrastructure, but it has to do more by attracting private investors through friendly policies, as it does not have the funds for continued development of the airport infrastructure.