Aviation industry stakeholders have excoriated the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, for not fulfilling any of the major goals he set out to accomplish in the sector when he was appointed.
The minister had assured then that his administration would ensure the concession of four major airports in the country. The included the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa and the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano.
In addition to the concession of these airports, Sirika had also promised that his administration would establish major aircraft maintenance facility, aircraft leasing company and a national carrier.
Industry experts posit that a major solution to the problem of infrastructure decay at the airports is the concession of these facilities, which would enable the private sector invest in the modernisation of airport terminals and other facilities.
Sirika had said variously that the federal government does not have the funds to embark on infrastructure renewal at the airports, so the private sector has to come in through concession.
It was also expected that when the airport terminals are concessioned, the limited resources that could be provided by government would be used to upgrade critical infrastructure at the airside, which include runways, navigational aids, airfield lighting and others which may not be included in the concession.
The absence of these critical facilities has impinged on flight operations to many domestic destinations in the country and has forced airlines to underutilise their equipment, as they cannot operate to many airports after 6:00 pm due to absence of runway lights.
Former Managing Director of Virgin Nigeria Airways and currently the CEO of Ropeways, a cable company, Captain Dapo Olumide, noted that for Nigeria to have successful airlines, airport facilities must be modernised to enable the airlines maximise their operations.
He said most airports do not even have lighted taxiways.
He said critical infrastructure should be provided first at the airports before government should consider the establishment of a national carrier.
Speaking in the same vein, the Director, Research, Zenith Travels, Mr. Olumide Ohunayo, said Sirika failed to deliver on most of his policies for the sector in spite of the promises.
He explained that if Sirika was to be assessed based on his promise to establish the national carrier, concession of the terminals, national hangar project and aviation school among other policies, he performed below expectations.
On the other hand, he lauded Sirika for his efforts at sustaining safety and building on the existing infrastructure and facilities in the industry, stressing that he had been able to put some structures in place, while also building on the existing infrastructure in the system.
He also commended the government on the speedy release of accident reports and their implementation, describing it as the best in recent time.
But industry stakeholders, including industry consultant and the CEO of Belujane Konsult, Chris Aligbe, believed that for Nigeria to modernise its airports, effectively compete with Ghana, Senegal and others and also to successfully establish a hub for West Africa, it has to concession its airports.
Sirika had in his 2016 Aviation Development Master Plan, released about three months after his appointment, that the government would ensure the concessioning of the two airports in the first phase, while, Port Harcourt and Kano airports would follow in the second phase of the exercise.
Sirika, had at a stakeholders’ forum, also listed several other projects to boost aviation development that would be embarked upon by the federal government, but two months to the end of the tenure most of the projects are yet to see the light of day.
At the forum, Sirika had argued that the concessioning of the airports would further create more jobs for qualified Nigerians, stressing that it would also lead to the increase in size and capacity of the airports through Public Private Partnership (PPP) by attracting investments, to create the much needed hub in West and Central Africa.
He added: “In 2007, Jordan awarded a 25-year concession for the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman following a competitive bidding process. The project included rehabilitating existing facilities, constructing a new terminal with a capacity of 12 million passengers per year, and operating the airport.
“The project generated more than $1 billion in foreign direct investment and lead to the creation of 23,000 new jobs over its lifespan.”
However, it has to be noted that aviation unions do not support the planned concessioning of airports by the federal government, but despite their campaign against it, Sirika has reiterated that it would be the solution to infrastructure decay in the sector.