• Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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BusinessDay

How regional flight operations at MMA2 would decongest Lagos airport

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Considering strong growth in air traffic, major airports in Nigeria, especially Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) are near, at, or even exceeding their design capacities, causing congestion, lower levels of service and frustrated demand.

Existing airport infrastructure cannot handle expected growth. This is what the industry refers to as capacity crunch.

There are several indicators testifying to the capacity crunch, among which is shut down of some parts of the terminal for repairs and infrastructures that have become incapable to handle the current surge in passenger traffic.

Although the federal government through Festus Keyamo, the minister of aviation has said priority on his list is to carry out overhaul and repairs on the Lagos airport but given the complexities involved in planning, getting approvals, financing and constructing new infrastructure, by the time the new infrastructure is ready for use, its traffic could easily be twice what it was when the project was conceived.

This predicament of constant infrastructure shortage has negative economic consequences for the national economies as well as the key industry stakeholders. The delivery of sound and reliable airport infrastructure is an important factor of economic growth. However, the allocation of funds for infrastructure projects is insufficient to cope with the projected increase in demand.

To bridge the gap of infrastructural upgrade amid increase in passenger numbers is private sector partnership.

The most important reasons for airports privatization are in the operational, economic and strategic domains.

Privatization aims at achieving higher operational efficiency as well as better service standards for the users and end-users. Privatization can alleviate the State burden for airports development and transfer risks to the private sector. But most importantly, privatization represents a solution to gain capitals from external sources for infrastructure investments. It is a policy that enables airport development which, in turn, facilitates the economic development of a region.

State of infrastructures

The state at Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) airport terminal often leaves passengers in a chaotic state.

The uncontrolled crowd, the confused passengers, the luggage littered around the airport terminal and the unusual flight delays and cancellations due to airlines’ inability to process its passengers within the time allowed have made the airport terminal look more like a marketplace.

Air passengers are required to be at the airport at least two or three hours before the scheduled departure of the Aeroplane, Still, with the current situation at MMIA, if passengers are not at the airport at least four to five hours before flight time, they are likely to miss their flights.

Last week, the conveyor belt broke down leaving luggage littered around the airport and passengers waiting endlessly for their luggage.

Airlines have since grappled with terminal congestion, resulting in flight delays and cancellations, leaving several passengers stranded.

While eight airlines were initially operating at the new terminal before the relocation, 13 more airlines had relocated to the airport, making 21 airlines depart from the facility.

Foreign airlines had complained about the apron capacity at the new terminal, which they said cannot accommodate wide-bodied aircraft.

Experts in the aviation sector have since raised concerns that the Lagos airport can no longer handle the increasing traffic at the terminal.

Stakeholders in the aviation sector have said one very easy way to decongest the Lagos airport is for regional flight operations to kickstart at Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal Two (MMA2) managed by Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Ltd (BASL).

MMA2 ready for regional flights

Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Ltd (BASL) recently disclosed that over N600 million has been expended in Murtala Muhammed Airport terminal two (MMA2) in preparation for regional flight operations. Yet, the functions have failed to kick off.

The company insisted it has the facilities required for regional flight operations from MMA2.

Blessing Ewah, head of operations, BASL had said that all the agencies, including the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), had assessed and approved the facilities after all requirements were met, wondering why operations were yet to commence.

“We are ready; the terminal is ready, and gates 5 and 6 here have been dedicated for regional flights. We have invested over N600 million in the facilities for this operation and have not recouped one naira; it all started in 2014, “he said.

Recall that the Ministerial Committee on Airport Security, in 2016, certified the Murtala Muhammed Airport Two as fit for the commencement of regional operations.

In April 2023, Wale Babalakin, Chairman of BASL, after inaugurating ‘The Art Experience’ (Art Gallery) in MMA2, stated that despite the terminal being approved by FG, there were still delays in starting regional operations from the MMA2.

“I am alarmed that we have not commenced regional operations because we went through the process. We were certified but have not been allowed to take off.

“I am shocked because the MMA2 terminal was built to provide services for regional and domestic passengers, but it is underutilized

“We had already spent several millions of naira to acquire the state-of-the-art facilities in preparation for regional flight operations, but the inconsistency in government policy, despite the approval, had prevented it from using the facilities.” he had said.

The operator added the MMA2 terminal remains the best in Nigeria, citing that the best architects were engaged to design the terminal that last.

Ewah had insisted that everything requested for and required according to standards for regional operations is in place, adding, ‘the infrastructure is still in place, we are positive, it will be a beautiful thing for us to start regional operations this year’.

Tosan Duncan Odukoya, the acting chief operating officer of MMA2, who spoke shortly before the tour, said Bi-Courtney’s commitment to continuous improvement is evident in its maintenance and equipment facilities. At the same time, its customer service remains the cornerstone of the passenger experience.

Decongesting Lagos airport

Olumide Ohunayo industry analyst and Director, Research, Zenith Travels told BusinessDay that the commencement of the commencement of regional flights at MMA2 is long overdue.

“The management of MMA2 has told the whole world including the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) that they are ready and this will help FAAN as they try to rebuild the Lagos international airport.

“Good thing for me from this perspective is if regional flights can start from MMA2, we would now be able to develop that linkage between the international airport and the domestic terminal. We would be able to work out a mode of transporting passengers between those terminals and moving regional flights to MMA2 would help. FAAN and MMA2 management would need to look at this option,” Ohunayo said.

He explained that MMA2 and Asaba airport have been a success story and this has shown that private investors can do well.

Ibrahim Mshelia, a captain and owner of West Link Airlines Nigeria and Mish Aviation Flying School told BusinessDay that he wonders why MMA2 has not been allowed to start regional flight right from the beginning.

Mshelia explained an airport facility can be turned to regional once it has the facilities and qualifies to do regional flights.

“MMA2 is qualified to do it. It is a suitable airport and I don’t know why we shouldn’t do it. I think doing so will help decongest international airports especially with the ongoing constructions and make life easy for passengers.

“What is the essence of an airport in the first place? It is to process passengers and the more seamless it is, the better it is. I think I support it 100 percent. They should allow international departures to the region and even London. I don’t think it should be only regional. It can also be international. It will be a very good idea to decongest the airport,” Mshelia said.

He said a lot of people don’t like to travel outside Nigeria from Lagos because of the harassment and harsh travel environment.

He said if an airport experience is very nice, people will be encouraged to travel and transit through it.

“People travel to Ghana to go to London. They could just come to Nigeria. If you make it easier, more people could just be flying out of Lagos airport. The economic benefits will be huge. Private public partnership should be encouraged. Babalakin has done well and we should encourage more Nigerians to do it,” Mshelia said.

Seyi Adewale, the chief executive officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited, said having an airport dedicated or specialized to regional flights is progressive.

According to Adewale, MMA2 having this possible privilege is particularly good because the Concessionaire has invested significantly in developing and upgrading the airport facilitation experience and standards, adding that It will also encourage other investors to come into the sector thereby committing more needed funds to grow and develop the aviation sector.

He said the impact of having regional flights take off from MMA2 is that from the concessionaire standpoint, it will be more return on investments whereby reinvestment that will be geared to excellent customer experience is possible.

He further explained that it will also increase the revenue streams of airlines that will optimize their slots or be attracted to this new horizon in a safe and specialized fashion.

“We should note the wonderful opportunities our inevitable Single African Skies and African Continental Free Trade Area offers. However, this opportunity does not necessarily mean lower traveling costs, traffic congestion around MMA2 without reworking and expanding the road network therein. Also note the parking issues and costs thereof.

“In fact, there is no other veritable or better option but to allow the private sector to invest, drive and grow our aviation sector whereas the government provides oversight. regulation, and governance therein. We are happy that the MMA2 model is an effective and good reference point of what a well thought out concessionaire program and bidding process offers,” Adewale said.

He said the MMA2 concessionaire ought to be commended, adding that governments in general and globally are not suited to manage and commit continued resources to many sectors including Ports and business or operational management.

“When governments provide the huge resources to kick start the development of a sector, the next step and viable model will be to concession the facilities or platform created to ensure continuous growth, attract new investments, new infrastructure, and expansion of the sector. Governments are known to be very good in oversight functions via legislation, regulations and governance. Private-Public handshake is the progressive way to go,” Adewale said.