Chaos at Lagos airport as infrastructure crumbles

The worsening state of infrastructure at the Lagos airport is increasingly affecting flight operations and passenger facilitation.

As international airports across the world continually work to modernize their infrastructure to improve passenger experience and spur more airline competition, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), which handles 65 percent of the country’s passenger traffic, still battles with putting in place the basic infrastructure at the country’s megacity.

Findings show that the Lagos International Airport has been operating manually since June 1 because the Societe International Telecommunication Aeronautiques (SITA), which provides Common Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE), withdrew its services and the company, Arlington Securities Nigeria Services that was supposed to replace SITA, was yet to install its own equipment to migrate airlines to the new system.

Airline staff have been handwriting boarding passes and bag tags as some international airlines had to get an alternate option by using their own system and luggage printers.

Daily check-in for hundreds of international air travellers to various destinations has since continued to be delayed for several hours.

While other international airport runways across the world operate at Category 3, the MMIA runway, which currently operates as Category 2, last week downgraded to Category 1 as a result of its collapsed runway lights.

Checks show that for an airport to operate as Category 3, all the airport components must be upgraded to international standard including the runway, perimeter fence, Instrument Landing Aids, 24-hour power supply, among others. Once a component fails, other components are affected.

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The runway threshold and end lights at the international wing of the airport, which collapsed last week, making airlines divert flights to Abuja airport, has however been fixed but experts say this exposes the infrastructure gap at the airport.

A source at Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) states that the agency had procured Category 3 Instrument Landing System (ILS) but cannot use a Cat 3 ILS on a CAT 2 runway, and this has stalled the agency from fixing the ILS till date.

Few days ago, airlines had to divert their Lagos bound flights to Abuja because the centre-line lights on 18R, the runway at the international wing, were unserviceable.

Further checks show that in the last 10 years, the runway lights at 18L, the local wing, have been unserviceable, making it impossible for local airlines to land at the domestic airport at night. The situation forces local airlines to land at the international wing, then taxy to the local airport for about 15 minutes at night, burning more aviation fuel and inconveniencing the passengers.

Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst, says the non-functional runway lights have been with us for over 10 years now and this should be a priority to the government, but surprisingly the government has not done anything about it.

Ohunayo says that functional runway lights will improve operational services at Lagos airport, increase flight into the airport and reduce cost of operations for domestic airlines who have to taxi all the way to the local airport at night.

The government needs to expedite action on providing runway lights not just for Lagos but for all the major airports, he says.

“As more airlines come on, they need more frequencies and schedules and to operate the schedules they have to operate beyond the 6pm time. It is only when airlines have frequencies and schedules that they would be able to meet up with their leased aircraft payments.

“If these frequencies are there, the fares will drop and once fares drop, you have more passengers flying. It’s a win-win for everyone. And once more passengers fly, all the regular agencies would have their revenues increased. Fixing the runway lights at the airport is not a luxury but a component for improving and increasing revenue generation for all parties. It will also improve efficiency and safety,” he explains.

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

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.

In other climes, 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, according to findings.

While this process has continued to constitute unnecessary delays to passengers who are forced to remain in the aircraft for 15 to 20 minutes for the aircraft to be towed after landing, the airlines have continued to pay ground-handling companies over N985 million annually to tow their aircraft into the aerobridge.

A source close to the Federal Government told BusinessDay that in 2014, during the remodelling of the airports, about 28 aerobridges were bought and commissioned and some officials in government went to see them in China.

The source went on to disclose that 14 aerobridges were supposed to be installed in MMIA and other airports were supposed to get 14 as well, but up till now, the bridges have not been shipped in.

“The then airport manager was one of those that went to check the bridges in China, and those bridges are still there. We have been begging them to bring them in. When we have something like that still hanging, it is very difficult to request for new ones.

“To us, it is not easy because the airlines are always on our neck. Passengers wait in the aircraft for several minutes for the aircraft to be towed into the aerobridge.

“The main issue is that the bridges are old and are not meant for the current aircraft type that we are operating. The bridges are not manual but they are automatic,” the source said.

Henrietta Yakubu, general manager, corporate affairs, FAAN, who confirmed the 10 years unserviceable runway lights at the local runway of Lagos airport said first thing the managing director of FAAN said when he resumed office was that he was going to tackle it and he was currently working on fixing the runway lights at the domestic wing.

On the aerobridges, Yakubu said a request was made to Bureau of Public Enterprise (BTE) to replace all the aerobridges but the COVID-19 lockdown stalled the process.

The request is still there and the managing director is passionate about sorting out the issue, she said.

On the issues with SITA, she said FAAN had started work on a backup plan and they would be on ground this Thursday, while FAAN waits for the agreement with Arlington to become formalised.

“SITA promised to be on ground for us for six months and then they pulled out after a few months just to embarrass us because they were already aware that FAAN was not going to renew their contract,” she said.

On the passenger part, “Passengers continue to suffer for the failings of the airport authorities. It is either a power outage at the airport today or a system breakdown the next time, yet passengers pay charges for these failing services,” Chibuike Uzo, a passenger lamented over the manual bookings.

Another passenger whose flight was diverted as a result of the collapse of the runway light said his plans for the day were cancelled as a result of the development and it was sad to know that the airport at Nigeria’s mega city did not have functional runway lights.

The passenger, who craved anonymity, said this was not the first time a similar situation was occurring despite airport charges passengers pay on each ticket.

“I have never heard of flights to Accra being diverted to Lagos. It is always the other way round. If there is not runway light, it is a shortage of aviation fuel or one other failing,” the passenger said.

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