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Most of the airports do not make economic sense     

Reports that 12 states in the country recently secured licences from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authorities (NCAA) for the construction of airports should worry critical stakeholders. One of them is by the outgoing government of Sam Ortom in Benue State. According to the Commissioner of Information and Culture, Michael Inalegwu, “The site for this airport is going to be at Kura, along Naka Road, about 12 Kilometres from Makurdi town because of the proximity to the Industrial layout”. We do not know how airport has become a priority for the state when there is little or no patronage for the current one in Makurdi. But it appears that the priority project for every governor is to build an airport in their state.  

Building airports is capital intensive and so is their maintenance. Airports need permanent technical and administrative personnel who must work to sustain the cost of their existence, even if they are not generating money. For instance, Kebbi State built an airport some years ago with state-of-the art facilities, but today it barely has scheduled regular flights, except charter services. Unable to break-even, the airport was handed over to the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to manage at huge deficit to the aviation agency. It is the same experience with other state-owned airports in Bauchi and Gombe that have been taken over by the agency.  

Looking at market projections, there is not going to be sudden rise in air transport in Nigeria because of low per capita income, even if alternative means of transport like rail and road do not expand. Right now, out of all the airports built by states, only the ones in Uyo and Asaba could be said to be viable and that is because government in both Akwa Ibom and Delta States support them financially. We therefore do not understand the rationale behind building more airports for the states beyond political consideration. Unfortunately, the states are only following the bad example set by the federal government.  

When in 2020 the federal government gave approval to states to build airports in Anambra, Benue, Ekiti, Nasarawa and Ebonyi States while taking over the ones built in Kebbi, Osubi and Dutse and Gombe States, we queried the rationale behind the decision. Of the 26 airports being managed by FAAN, only six of them record above 5,000 aircraft movement in a year. All the others depend on these six to stay afloat. The question we posed at the time remains unanswered: In a period of lean resources when the same government is borrowing to meet commitments, why does it have to saddle the country with more cost centres?     

The argument that states cannot develop without an airport fails in the face of reality because some of these airports have formed a cluster. An investor travelling to a certain part of Akwa Ibom may have to land at the Calabar Airport to get faster to his destination than landing at Uyo Airport. Asaba Airport is closer to a businessman in Onitsha than Anambra Airport at Umueri. In fact, it is said that the air traffic controller at the Asaba airport could guide a plane to land at Umueri airport in Anambra.  

The consequences of building unviable airports are that huge resources, which would have been used to provide other essential infrastructure are spent on unprofitable ventures. Most of these airports only serve the interest of the governors who travel through them with charter services, as scheduled services cannot break even for commercial airlines due to low passenger throughput.  Since many of these airports do not have critical amenities like airfield lighting, it makes no sense that states are expending huge resources to build new airports.  

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