As airlines continue to grapple with high operating costs, making it difficult to be profitable, experts in the aviation sector have reiterated concerns that if airports operate for 24 hours, this would help cushion some of the current financial strains.
Two weeks ago, Aero Contractors, one of Nigeria’s oldest carriers suspended flight operations over increasing operational costs. These costs range from taxes, surcharges and maintenance costs which have risen because of the scarcity of foreign exchange.
Experts say, if all airports have 24 hours operations, airlines can maximize passenger demand and operate at airports at any time, which means more revenue for them.
Out of 22 airports managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN) only Abuja, Port Harcourt, Benin, Enugu, Kano and Kaduna airports have airfield lighting to enable flights to land and take off on or after 6.30 pm while others are referred to as ‘Day Light’ airports.
Airlines say when aircraft develop technical issues or there is a weather issue making airlines operate behind schedule, the flight time to these airports may be delayed, which means outright cancellations since airlines cannot operate into these airports after a certain time.
Speaking at the 26th annual conference of the League of Airport and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC) last week on the theme, ‘Sunset Airports: Economic and Safety Implications,’ held in Lagos, George Uriesi, the Chief Operating Officer of Ibom Air said that the lack of 24 hours flight operations to major routes in Nigeria was impeding the growth of the airlines.
According to Uriesi in his paper, ‘Maximising Runway Utilisation: A Nigerian Airline Perspective,’ the country’s carriers are losing an average of N4 million per flight, N12 million in every three flights not operated and N360 million in 90 flights and N4.3 billion annually on every flight lost to sunset airport operations.
This restriction, Uriesi noted, has led to a huge under-utilisation of aircraft fleets by the Nigerian airlines as against the global industry standards.
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“This is due partly because of too many impediments in the operating environment that limit airline productivity. These include limited runway availability across the domestic network, multiple operational infrastructure deficiencies, poor organisation and many others,” he added.
In a bid to solve the challenge, Uriesi appealed to the government to prioritise airfield infrastructure and provide the necessary Instrument Landing System (ILS) and accompanying accessories for every airport, while also keeping the aerodromes open to meet the needs of airlines and other users.
He also advised that the government should make current, approved master plans a regulatory requirement for every airport and illegalize non-adherence to the master plans by any organisation.
Musa Nuhu, director general, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA) in his paper titled ‘Sunrise-Sunset Airports: Economic and Safety Implications’, explained that airports which decide to expand their operations beyond dusk require large finances and compliance with other important conditions including adequate number of competent personnel, adequate power supply, availability of ancillary service providers etc.
According to Nuhu, Nigeria needs over N1.5 trillion or $5bn billion to fix the airport infrastructure gap in the country according to the African Development Bank (2019) report.
He said there are issues involving fire cover, primary and secondary power sources, and provision of communication, navigation and surveillance aids, automatic weather stations and now-casting equipment among others.
He also hinted that due to the downturn in the country’s economy, available data shows that the level of passenger and traffic activities are not financially viable or self-sustaining to operate a majority of the airports beyond sunset.
Nuhu said despite these challenges, the provision of air navigation infrastructure including navigational and landing aids, conducive air traffic control tower, aeronautical meteorological equipment for accurate and timely meteorological information will help a great deal to allow night and all weather conditions’ operations at the airports.
He pointed out that maintenance and service delivery at many airports in Nigeria are a great deterrent to travelling and tourism, adding that a lot needs to be done to make the airports as economic tools for Nigeria’s development.
Bankole Bernard, group managing director, Finchglow Holdings and the chairman of the event said possible solutions to consider given the numerous challenges is the modernization of airport terminals with shopping malls as this will contribute to the commercial viability of the airports and other necessary infrastructures like the internet and constant power supply to support businesses.
Bernard also suggested that Nigeria must begin to think of an alternative power supply like renewable energy to keep the airport functional and reduce the cost of operation in the long run. This, he said, will also make the airport viable and attractive.