Last week the Anambra State International Airport, Umueri marked its first test flights, thus indicating the readiness of the facility to host scheduled and cargo flights. Chinedu Eze, who attended the ceremony, writes about the expected and benefits of the infrastructure to people of the state.
Anambra state government surprised many Nigerians on April 30, 2021, when its new airport received three flights to mark its inauguration. The surprise came from the fact that not many knew that the airport was being built and also not many knew that it had reached the level of completion to host flights.
This explained the excitement and frenzy when the first aircraft, a Boeing 737 operated by Nigeria’s major carrier, Air Peace, landed at the airport, the home of the people who arguably are the most travelled in Nigeria.
The people could not contain their happiness that the expanse of land that hitherto was a farmland had been transformed to an airport, where a flight could take off from anywhere in the world and land after it has been certified. The second flight that landed was Embraer 145, also operated by Air Peace and the third flight was a private jet.
The celebration was reminiscent of what happened in September 2009, when the Akwa Ibom International Airport was opened for flights. Then, the tumultuous crowd who were so elated became human traffic gridlock, as they trekked from Uyo to Okobo community to witness the first aircraft that landed at the airport.
It was also a similar scenario at Gombe when the Sani Abacha International Airport was inaugurated in 2008. The throngs of people from the state celebrated and hailed the then governor of the state for his foresight to build the airport.
For the people of Anambra state, the state government has unlocked an opportunity for job creation, for easy movement of goods and for connecting to the rest of the world from the state.
Attention of Nigerians was drawn to the airport when the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu commended the facility after detailed inspection.
He described it as one of the best in the country and said he was amazed at the elaborate, carefully planned and masterfully executed facilities at the new airport.
“I am amazed, almost speechless at the level of work, and the level of compliance with our regulatory requirements and also with international standards and recommended practices.
“We have gone round the airport. We have a runway of 3.7kilometers with a runway safety area on both ends of the airport of about 1000 meters. There’s no airport in Nigeria that has a racer area of 1000 meters at both ends of the runway.
“With two taxiways. We have gone to the tower; the control tower is amazing, certainly if not one of the best control towers in Nigeria today. We have seen the fire service station. Amazing.
“It’s going to be a CAT (category) 955 firefighting station which will allow big planes and international flights to be landing and taking off here once flight resumes.”
“It takes care of the need of not only the airport but also of the firefighting service. We have seen the emergency evacuation center, trauma center in case, God forbid, anything happens.
“There’s arrangement to deal with any eventuality. I have seen the operational fence, I have seen the perimeter fence, significantly done or almost completed. And in the vehicle earlier today, I had said that ‘Anambra means business.’ And I mean it when I say Anambra means business,” the Director General, who was obviously satisfied with the work done, said.
The Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, an indigene of the state who was elated that the state government could in a short time build such facility, gave kudos to Governor Willy Obiano and his team for building the airport in record time.
“I shed tears when I landed here because nobody ever believed that this day would come. I remember some months ago when I went on television to tell the world that what I saw here was impressive, some people went to town to condemn me.
“But today, I have been vindicated. This is the fastest airport to be approved by the federal government for a test flight and it is a testament of the quality of job done here. What we have here is the best runway in Africa and the widest runway to be built. This runway can land a Boeing 777 and an Airbus 380, which are the biggest planes.
“We decided to bring a small plane and a big one to show the quality of job the government has done. This airport is not going to serve only Anambra people; it would serve the South East and the entire country. I said four months ago that President Muhammadu Buhari would approve this airport as an international and cargo airport.
“One thing that is certain is that the airport will generate thousands of jobs for our people. Forget where the airport is sited; we have nothing against it because there is plenty of land, which helped to ensure that a 3.7 kilometer runway was built,” Onyema said.
Quality of Work
The Anambra State Commissioner for Works and Head of the project delivery team, Marcel Ifejiofor disclosed to newsmen that the level of work done in the airport was 90 percent, but the runway was 100 percent completed.
“The apron is 100 percent completed and the taxi way is 100 percent completed. The terminal is 90 percent completed. The good thing about what we are doing here is that all the equipment has been paid for. The lights, the avio bridges, the security, the Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) and the VOR (Voice Ominidirectional Radio Range) have all been paid for.
“In the next two months, everything should have been completed and we would commission the airport. For landscaping, the contract has been given. Our budget is on a yearly basis,” he explained.
He said the Governor of Anambra State had created a community by building the airport, noting that an airport is a community both socially and economically. Ifejiofor added: “In the construction stage, we employed about 2,500 workers and we have the suppliers. In a day, our suppliers bring in about 72 trucks, 30 tonnes of gravels. People are supplying these things and the equipment we are using here are many.
“These include diesel, cement and sand, which are supplied. The food vendors are also benefiting. The employment opportunities are unprecedented.”
He remarked that when the terminal is completed, it won’t take anything less than 1000 workers, adding that employment opportunities would cut across aviation security, fire control workers, shops and others.
THISDAY learnt that since it dawned on many that the airport has become a reality, there arose a raging argument whether the airport would be designated as international airport.
Such designation, experts said, is at the discretion of the federal government. But the Anambra state government in building the airport raised it to the standard that it would meet the fire cover of international airport. It also built a runway that met international standards and all other infrastructure in the airport were built to meet the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the Airport Council International (ACI) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) standards. But it is left to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to give its verdict on the airport.
Ifejiofor explained, “The licence we have from the Ministry of Aviation recognises it as Anambra International Cargo Airport. It is equally licenced for passengers. Our runway is 3.7 kilometres; the apron is 300 by 200 meters. It can take eight Boeing 737. The critical aircraft for this place is Boeing 737.
“We have a strip of 140 meters on the other side of the runway. We have three access roads to this airport. We have one that is under contract and is being worked on, another one comes from Onitsha road but we have the major entrance that leads to the express. This is 5.7Km; that road is 85 percent completed. You can go through that road.”
He said that the projected passenger traffic for the airport at the onset would be 1,200 daily because the terminal was designed for 400 passengers at a time.
“In other countries, there are airports in every city. The easiest and safest means of transportation is by air. So, it doesn’t matter if we have more airports. As we speak we are doing a tank farm with a capacity of 2.1 million litres of aviation fuel and it is a private sector arrangement. That facility is 80 percent completed. We have the tallest control tower in Nigeria and it is done on concrete.
“The staircase is fire prove. We call it the safe heaven. Once there is fire in that building and we enter the staircase and close it, the fire would not get in. It also has self fire-fighting equipment. We have a tank, we have a fire pump house and we send water. Every room and office has a sprinkler.
“Beside it, we have a firehouse. The firehouse is the most recent fire tenders in the world from Germany. This fire service takes 12,500 liters each and they are three. So the category of fire cover we have here is category 9, which is the biggest,” the Commissioner said.
He said the state government has already awarded the contract to train the technical personnel to East Wing. The personnel to be trained include general training, aviation safety and security.
The Commissioner also said the Governor visited this site at least once a week and construction has been on for one year and three months and no contractor is owed; “once contractors submit their certificates, he (the Governor) pays. He has not borrowed any money to construct this airport.”
Ifejiofor also disclosed that airlines and other service providers are showing interest to come to this airport, adding that so many people want to build maintenance hangar here, including Nigeria’s major carrier, which has indicated interest to set up a Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) facility at the airport. He added that there are plans to set up aviation training school at the airport premises.
“Before December 2021, commercial schedule operations would have commenced at this airport,” the Commissioner assured.
Industry expert and CEO of Belujane Konsult, Chris Aligbe, told THISDAY that for the Anambra airport to be of high utility and profitable, it must be designated as cargo airport, whereby the federal government would recognise it as cargo facility to enable it take in cargo directly from overseas.
“They should seek an approval for international cargo operation. They should not border about passengers. Passengers can go to Enugu for major international flights, but they should look at cargo and seek approval for international cargo operation. If they should do that and begin to build on it, the airport will become attractive. For cargo, the airport will be the only one in that region, except Enugu. But if it does well as a cargo airport, it can go a long way,” Aligbe said.
Also the Chief Executive Officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited, Seyi Adewale said the airport would further endear many economic actors to the state, thereby increasing the state’s prosperity and accessibility considering the current state of the country’s road network
Adewale explained that the capacity of the state to generate additional Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) would improve based on rentals and other taxes that would be generated from the airport and associated businesses. He also noted that the enhanced and efficient movement of goods, services and human capital would improve the state’s capacity to attract investment.