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Africa: Nigerian aviation experts divided over new airport projects in the country

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The move to establish more airports in Nigeria, a West African powerhouse has continued to generate mix reactions from leading aviation experts in the country.

According to a report on tbiafrica.com, some experts have criticized the move, while others are hailing the move, saying it would spur socio—economic development in the respective states.

Some experts see airport projects as unviable and a waste of resources, saying the resources ought to be channeled towards providing social amenities such as potable water, roads, health facilities and others in the states where such projects are ongoing presently.

Some aviation industry observers frowned upon moves by some state governors to establish new airports and many of them spoke recently when the Anambra state government unveiled its new airport, which is near completion.

They also criticised the plan of Ebonyi state government to establish an airport, a project which has already commenced. Additionally, they faulted the Ogun state government in its plan to build both cargo and passenger airports, just as Asaba airport which was given out recently to concessionaires was not spared by critics.

But those in support of the ongoing airport projects in some states, stressed that it would help attract investments and in the long-run support the quest for diversification of the revenue base of the states.

Industry consultant and CEO of Belujane Konsult, Chris Aligbe, excoriated state governments that would build airports and later hand them over to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), which is already managing many unviable airports from the revenues it is getting from about three airports.

However, Aligbe conceded recently that some state owned airports could be viable, depending on the location and if they are given out in concession so that private sector funds could be injected in their development.

He said concession creates an opportunity for a world-class airport, world-class infrastructure to be developed with new approach to airport development.

“This will be a lesson to other governors, who today, spend so much money building airports, and then turn around to hand it over the FAAN. There should be a bandwagon effect from what has happened here.

“If that happens, FAAN will be relieved of present burden of managing what today is called unviable airports. All airports can be viable if you determine how to go ahead and the only way to do it is to bring those who know how to manage airports. And that is a true concession,” he said.

Travel expert and organiser of Akwaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Uko, told THISDAY that building airports is good for the country of about 200 million because in the new world, people need to move faster and even existing roads may not be alternatives because many of them are dilapidated and there is the challenge of insecurity.

“We need many airports. The future is aviation and the roads cannot carry 200 million people. The faster people move the better for everybody. If you build an airport later somebody will think of what to add to it to make it profitable and serve greater purpose but it is good to build it first.

“If Nigeria is decentralised the airports will even become more viable because some of them will service regional interests, but now it is Lagos-Abuja-Port Harcourt. I know that the Anambra airport will be viable; the same with the one being built in Ebonyi. Nigeria is bigger than Kenya but Kenya has small airports all over the place, providing services to travelers and tourists, he said.

Uko, said airports could be made viable by creating businesses in them like what is obtained at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, adding that export free zone could be located in an airport to boost non-aeronautical services and generate more revenues.

“Akwa Ibom has shown that you can build business hub around an airport. An airport can be integrated into a business environment. Airport has to play a role by providing service but you need to determine which service,” he said.

But a former President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA) and Finchglow Group Boss, Bankole Bernard, told THISDAY that existing airports are already too much, as many of them are not viable, so there is no need adding more to them.

“We already have about 26 airports. We must think of their economic importance and managing them will put pressure on the few viable ones which FAAN generate money to maintain them. Government is in the business of enunciating and regulating policies, so why can’t it concession some of the airports.

“The concessionaire can invest money in the airport and make it viable. But now everybody wants to have an airport. Ogun state has been clamouring to have cargo and passenger airport, but the state government does not have the money, so we have to focus attention on the reality. We do not have the economic power to sustain these airports. We do not want proliferation of airports that won’t have value. The issue of security should be addressed separately and not linked to the airport,” Bernard said.

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