Cargo planes are vital for Nigeria’s growing economy and transportation needs. They are extensively used for moving goods within the country and internationally.
Nigeria has well-equipped international airports, including Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, and Port Harcourt International Airport in Rivers State, which serve as key cargo hubs supporting trade and commerce.
Further, several airlines operate cargo services in Nigeria, catering to the increasing demand for freight transportation. Leading carriers such as Nigeria Airways Cargo, DHL Aviation, and Allied Air Cargo dominate this sector. They offer comprehensive cargo solutions, including express delivery, specialized handling, and transportation of perishable goods.
Nigeria has a substantial fleet of cargo planes, reflecting its active trade activities. Approximately 50 cargo planes operate within the country, varying in size and capacity. The fleet comprises diverse aircraft models, such as Boeing 747, McDonnell Douglas MD-11, and Lockheed C-130 Hercules, among others.
These cargo planes and their operators impact the transport of a wide range of goods, both domestically and for international destinations. Domestically, they facilitate the movement of essential commodities like agricultural products, machinery, and consumer goods across various states and regions.
Particularly, these planes play a crucial role in international trade by transporting Nigerian exports such as petroleum products, solid minerals, and agricultural products to countries worldwide.
However, cargo planes operating in Nigeria also face challenges that need attention. Infrastructure development, including runway expansions and cargo handling facilities, is necessary to accommodate larger aircraft and improve efficiency. Moreover, ensuring the safety and security of cargo operations is crucial for the industry’s growth and reputation.
Experts in the aviation and cargo export sectors express concerns over empty cargo planes leaving Nigeria despite abundant agricultural produce within the country. This situation is attributed to a lack of markets and information, leading to wasted agricultural resources.
Obinna Anyaegbu, CEO, Chisco Logistics, speaking during the Chinet Aviacargo Conference last year, said: “We leased an aeroplane two years ago, doing Lagos-Accra when our vehicle service was down. Every single day, we move from Lagos to Accra with buses and trucks. But when COVID-19 hit, we leased an aeroplane but we had no goods to move. It was a 14-tonne 737 aeroplane and we were struggling to get two tonnes in a week.”
Furthermore, foreign exchange scarcity and trapped funds have caused large cargo planes designed specifically for cargo transportation to cease operations in Nigeria.
Cargolux, Saudi Cargo, and Emirates Cargo Airlines, which previously operated cargo flights into Nigeria, have suspended their services due to these challenges. Turkish Airlines continues limited operations, but there are instances where the airline cannot operate any flights to Nigeria within a week.
To compensate for the reduced cargo capacity, airlines now utilize the belly compartments of passenger aircraft to transport cargo. However, importers or exporters with significant cargo loads often have to charter cargo planes at high costs to bring their products into Nigeria.
“Currently, no freighter cargo airline is coming into Nigeria. We used to have freighter cargo carriers like Cargolux and others that fly into Nigeria between three to four times weekly, but all of them have stopped. We don’t have any single freighter cargo airline coming into Nigeria,” Kingsley Nwokeoma, president, Association of Foreign Airlines and Representatives in Nigeria, (AFARN) told BusinessDay.
“So what happens to cargo now is that the bellies of passenger aircraft such as the 777, and the big Airbus aircraft are used to take some reasonable amount of cargo.”
To change the status quo and benefit from the revenue-generating capacity of cargo planes, there is a need for further development of cargo facilities at Nigerian airports. Currently, only five airports—Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano, Abuja, and Owerri—have the necessary infrastructure to process imports and exports effectively.
Seyi Adewale, an aviation expert and chief executive officer at Mainstream Cargo Limited, in an interview, said: “For cargo airports to become functional, there is a need for the government to incentivise new and expiring airliners to invest in cargo airlines and the development and optimisation of the agriculture value chain to deliver qualitative and internationally marketable agricultural produce and products.”
Additional requirements for cargo airports include cargo sheds, long runways, instrument landing systems, fire-fighting vehicles, airport aprons, good link roads, screening machines, and trained personnel from various agencies, according to standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Cargo planes are a vital component of Nigeria’s logistics infrastructure, facilitating domestic and international trade. With a diverse fleet, dedicated air freight carriers, and strategically located airports, Nigeria aims to strengthen its position as a prominent player in the regional cargo transportation sector.
By addressing challenges and embracing opportunities, Nigeria strives to enhance its cargo capabilities, stimulate economic growth, and foster robust trade relationships in the future.