• Sunday, April 21, 2024
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Air travellers seek use of new Lagos terminal as old one fails

International airlines shun new Lagos terminal over space constraints

With many facilities at the old terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in disrepair, passengers are clamouring for airlines to move to the new terminal.

BusinessDay investigations show that the current state of infrastructures at the Lagos airport’s old terminal is affecting flight operations and passenger facilitation, while the new terminal, which houses modern facilities, is being used by only two airlines.

Currently, out of over 16 foreign airlines operating in Nigeria, only two airlines, Air Peace and Awa Airlines, use the new Lagos airport terminal.

BusinessDay had earlier reported that international airlines operating in Nigeria shunned the new terminal launched over five months ago because of space constraints.

It was gathered that the apron at the terminal is not wide enough to accommodate wide-bodied aircraft such as Dream liner aircraft, Boeing 777s, 747s and Airbus A380s, which are flown by Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, British Airways and Air Peace.

Rabiu Yadudu, managing director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), said FAAN would rather take its time than start flight operations at the new airport on the wrong footing, adding that it did not mean nothing was being done.

Yadudu disclosed that from September 1, five more airlines were scheduled to start operations in the new international terminal.

He said a lot of integration had to be done and more than eight airlines had shown interest in starting operations at the new terminal but five would start from September 1.

“There is a connecting area with the old terminal where passengers will move from one terminal to the other. We need the aircraft to be able to park at one side. The second part is that FAAN is working with the federal government to ensure the clearing of obstruction, so that there will be accessibility for the planes to park in that area,” he said.

With the new terminal still underutilised, passengers have in recent times complained about the worsening infrastructure at the Lagos airport’s old terminal, ranging from few functional screening and X-ray machines, continuous power outage at the airport, old packed-up escalators, bad conveyor belts, few access and exit gates and old non-functional aero bridges, affecting passenger facilitation.

A Nigerian traveller who recently returned to Nigeria narrated her ‘near-death experience’ on the escalators at the MMIA in Lagos.

Narrating her experience on Twitter on Sunday, the traveller, identified as Elvi, said her five-year-old wanted to use the escalator instead of the stairs when they arrived at the airport.

According to her, she had warned her kids in the past not to use escalators in Nigeria following an ugly incident that happened to a boy of her son’s age on a similar escalator.

However, she obliged him because they “travel around the world and escalators are normal to him”.

She said: “On this day, he wanted to and I insisted I hold his hand (there’s no place in the world where I’ve held his hand on an escalator). I noticed the razor-sharp edges of the escalator and it was going very fast. I looked down and the very-fast escalator had people tumbling on themselves. Humans started piling on each other. My reflex, I lifted my five-year-old in the air, he spread his legs high while I lay on my back.

“I joined the pile of humans at the base of the escalator. The only defence I had for myself was to raise my head so that only my back was bearing the grind of the escalators. A passenger snatched my five-year-old from me.

“My nine-year-old son, behind me, jumped over the railings and other passengers caught him. My husband was behind me [and] had managed to take a grip that only his back was scratched by the sharp edges. My daughter and Gloria who were behind my husband were running back up the escalators.

“Eventually some people lifted me up at the base of the death-trap called escalators. The immigration officers that were looking at us looked away while continuing with the job at hand on which passengers will be in a net, ‘catch for the day’.”

Videos shared on social media showed travellers bleeding at the base of the escalators; there were also images of people with bruises, as well as a damaged box.

In a swift response, FAAN apologised over its faulty escalators, which injured travellers at the Lagos airport.

Faithful Hope-Ivbaze, FAAN’s acting general manager, corporate affairs, said the airport authority had taken “full responsibility” for the incident.

She said FAAN was reviewing the operating procedure for the equipment to ensure that such sudden mechanical faults did not occur again.

However, some passengers alleged that Elvi’s case was one in many cases, saying the conveyor belts at the Lagos airport had continued to damage their bags, and airport officers sometimes resorted to manual bag checks at the airport because some of the screening machines had gone bad.

“Elvi’s case is one in several others but chose not to speak to the public about it. Each time I travel, it is either the one of the screening machines are bad, thereby leading to build-up of queues at the entrance gates, or there is power outage, making it difficult for airlines staff to process boarding passes,” Uchechuku Udo, a frequent traveller, told BusinessDay.

Udo hinted that he was happy when he learnt the new terminal would be open for airlines and passengers.

Another passenger, who identified herself as Sandra, said most times when she travelled through the old terminal, the air conditions did not work, making it very uncomfortable to wait for flights at the terminal.

Sandra also said the new terminal would have been a game-changer for travellers but expressed disappointment that airlines had refused to use the terminal over space constraints for their aircraft.

BusinessDay’s findings show that the MMIA’s old terminal has about three entrance and exit gates, which may not be sufficient enough to achieve social distancing.

John Ojikutu, a member of Aviation Round Table and chief executive of Centurion Securities, told BusinessDay: “There are no clear plans for crowd control at the access and exit gates of the passenger terminals. FAAN hasn’t come out to say any plan on spacing between passengers’ flight departures and arrivals.”

In Nigeria, passengers are forced to queue at security screening points, especially at peak hours, because of insufficient number of X-ray machines.

Ojikutu listed some of the infrastructural gaps that cause flight delays at Lagos airport to include inadequate checking-in-counters, inadequate passengers screening checkpoints and screening machines or unserviceable screening machines resulting in manual screening, inadequate aircraft boarding gates, inadequate aircraft parking areas, inadequate ground handling equipment or facilities, and absence of taxiways or sufficient links from aprons to runways.

The old dilapidated aero bridges at the Lagos airport also compound the troubles of airlines and passengers.

BusinessDay findings show that seven years ago, the federal government bought and commissioned 28 aero bridges in China.

The absence of the automated bridges have since seen airlines operating in Nigeria consistently spend millions of naira annually just to tow their aircraft into the aerobridge, a point to disembark passengers after landing.

BusinessDay’s findings show that in many other countries, airlines taxi their aircraft into the aerobridge but in Nigeria, airlines pay to taxi their aircraft to the bridges because the aerobridges are old and not automated to align with newer aircraft.

This process has continued to cause unnecessary delays as passengers are forced to remain in the aircraft for 15 to 20 minutes for the aircraft to be towed after landing.