• Saturday, February 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Gatwick Airport: Lessons for Nigeria on single runway

Kaduna International Airport Runway

With a single runway, London Gatwick Airport served 32.8 million passengers in the fiscal year ending December 31, 2022.

The passenger numbers at Gatwick Airport increased by over 420 percent from 6.3 million in 2021.

On the other hand, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport recorded slightly over five million passengers last year, comprising 2,530,372 arrivals and 2,499,471 departures.

This was an increase of 8.6 per cent when compared to the previous year.

In the short-haul market, the Gatwick Airport’s recovery was slightly higher at 92 percent of flights flown pre-pandemic and serving 156 destinations in 2022.

With the world’s most efficient single runway, Gatwick Airport has achieved 55 aircraft movements an hour.

Abuja airport serves less than 20 states in Nigeria and achieves less than 10 aircraft movements in an hour.

Despite the wide disparity in aircraft movements and passenger traffic between both airports, Gatwick Airport efficiently manages and maintains a single runway, while Abuja Airport is at the verge of constructing a second runway.

Stakeholders argue that Abuja Airport has not been used to optimal capacity to require a second runway and there are alternate airports such as Kaduna and Kano to use when there are incidents that require Abuja Airport to be temporarily shut down.

They also argue that if Abuja Airport has

equipment to evacuate aircraft during incidents and accidents and follow the maintenance manual of the airport as Gatwick Airport does, there won’t be a need to divert flights during incidents and accidents nor think of constructing a second runway.

As a result of these concerns, the fresh approval of N3.4 billion as consultancy fee for the second runway of Abuja Airport has been met with criticism.

Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst, told BusinessDay that people are using the incidents and accidents at the runway of Abuja Airport, leading to its closure, to justify a second runway.

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According to Ohunayo, Gatwick Airport operates for 24 hours and the runway is always being maintained.

He said it is just the efficiency for people to do their jobs and understand the assignments given to them.

He said: “If the single runway in Abuja is being maintained, it can take care of Abuja Airport for the next five years. We have not used the runway to its optimal capacity before we begin to run into a second runway. What we are seeing now is an opportunity to cash out on a last-minute contract.

“A single runway is the best for Abuja Airport right now. What we need is to get equipment to evacuate aircraft during incidents and accidents and follow the maintenance manual of the airport. You don’t have to close an airport to maintain its runway. You can do this in midnight and early hours of the morning when flight traffic is low.”

He also said there are alternate airports that can be used during repairs, describing the amount approved for the contract as scandalous.

The second runway was initially estimated to gulp N67b billion but it was last year revised to N92 billion.

From 2017 to 2022, a total sum of N65 billion has been allocated to the project in the annual budget though it was unclear if releases were made.

In the 2017 budget, N10 billion was voted for the project and in 2018, N8 billion was proposed while N13 billion was voted for the project in 2019 and N14 billion in 2021.

Last year, the Federal Capital Territory allocated land for the construction of the second runway.

John Ojikutu, security expert and former military commandant at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, argued that Abuja Airport does not need a second runway.

Ojikutu said: “Gatwick Airport now processes 32.8 million passengers annually and so is Johannesburg in South Africa with 22 million passengers annually but the over 30 airports in Nigeria have less than 20 million passengers in a year.

“None of our airports has the traffic to have a need for a second runway. I said this much to the Uzodinma’s Committee on Aviation that neither Abuja nor Lagos has the traffic to be considered for a second runway.

“There is no economic sense in building a second runway. Our problem is prodigal spending and the lack of or the neglect of the periodic maintenance of the necessary airport safety system and infrastructure which the runways are the most critical part of,” he added.

Sindy Foster, principal managing partner at Avaero Capital Partners, said Abuja Airport does not need a second runway based on the level of flights’ arrivals and departures.

Foster also argued that the runway now needs one due to poor processes and policies which has led to inefficiency.

She said: “You could really argue all steps should be taken to improve efficiency before any decision is taken to add a new runway. We will end up with two inefficient runways; so will they just add a third?

“Proper runway management strategies should be utilised to maximise the overall efficiency for arrival and departure operations. Proper coordination of runway usage, traffic management and improving operational performance are key.”

According to her, Gatwick Airport has capacity planning, and slot management, airport configuration management, and runway scheduling, among others, which all help improve runway performance.

She said managing an airport with multiple runways in complex conditions requires additional expertise and attentiveness to avoid catastrophic accidents.

“If Nigeria is struggling to manage single runway airports, is it ready for more complications?”