Process very transparent, says Okowa
By Omon-Julius Onabu
A 30-year concession agreement on the Asaba International Airport, Delta State, was yesterday signed between the state government and the Asaba Airport Company Limited, as the state Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, described the bidding process leading to the final agreement as “very transparent.”
The Asaba airport concession deal, which is worth over N28 billion, is for 30 years with N100 million payable to the state per annum and a possible escalation at five percent every five years, the governor disclosed.
“The bidding process was rigorous but transparent, and the state government was convinced that the final outcome was what was best for the people and the economy of the state in the long run, as the state government was realistic about its inability to operate an airport to the desired international standards,” the governor said at the signing ceremony.
Okowa said the journey to the concession agreement signing ceremony began in November 2015, when he set up a Project Steering Committee headed by his Senior Policy Adviser, Prof Henry Monye, “with the mandate to shop for a consortium of concessionaire operators/investors with the technical and financial capabilities to redevelop, finance, design, operate, maintain and manage the Asaba airport for the Delta State Government.”
He noted that the airport, which was conceived and begun construction by the Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan administration, had suffered a setback when the country’s aviation regulatory authority downgraded the airport, compelling an upgrade by his new government.
According to Okowa, “As we may be aware, this airport was conceived and built by the previous administration of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan not only as a passenger airport but one that will tap the vast economic potential accruable from the proximity to the eastern commercial cities of Onitsha and Nnewi, and be a hub for export of agricultural and manufactured goods.
“Unfortunately, the vision suffered a major setback when the airport was downgraded to a Category 3 airport by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) just few months before my administration came on board. That meant the airport could only accommodate smaller aircraft such as the Q400 and DASH 8. In the face of an economic recession at that time, we were confronted both with the challenge of upturning the downgrade and turning the airport into a model economic platform that is self-sustaining through a robust public-private partnership (PPP).
“This administration had to fully rehabilitate/reconstruct the runway, taxiway and other ancillary works; completed the perimeter fence, and evacuated the hill beside the airport for the provision of obstacle free zone for the runway as demanded by the regulatory authorities. Subsequently, the airport was upgraded to Category 6, which enables aircraft as large as the Boeing 737 to land in it.
“In addition, this administration completed the installation of the Instrument Landing System and the Airfield Ground Lighting System. As a result, the airport can now handle night operations, and in the last two months, the airport has operated several night flights as approved by the NCAA and the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
“I am happy to report that the airport now has a medical centre. The firefighting station has been completed while the watchtower for firefighters is 80 percent ready. Meanwhile, the previously unserviceable Automatic Weather Observation System and the Low-Level Wind Shear Alert System have been repaired and are functioning, improving the overall safety of the airport. This assurance of safety and the attractive nature of the route have continued to attract new airlines to the Asaba International Airport.”
The governor added: “Moving forward, we chose concession as the most viable option for the airport to be run more professionally, efficiently, and profitably for the overall good of the state. The Project Steering Committee invited bids for a transaction adviser to guide the state government and manage the process. Bids were received from 14 consortia, and after a rigorous selection process, Halcrow Infrastructure Consortium was appointed and approved by the State Executive Council (SEC) for appointment as transaction advisers for the concession of Asaba International Airport.
“For those who may not know, Halcrow Infrastructure Group is a multinational infrastructure consultancy firm with global pedigree.
“Sequel to the successful development and presentation of the airport master plan by this administration as requested by the transaction adviser, the state government in April 2019 solicited for bidders with proven track record in the aviation sector.”
Several companies and firms had expressed interest in the process, but eventually two major consortia emerged from the last round of the bidding process, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Ebie, said, noting that the FIDC-Menzies Consortium was selected as the preferred bidder to operate as the master concessionaire.