Air passengers, business mood tick up after Obaseki, FG’s interventions in Benin Airport

Air passengers travelling to and from the Benin Airport had in the past experienced difficult times coming at night which was seemingly occasioned by bad facilities that hindered most airlines from expanding their operations to the ancient city.

But, this is now a thing of the past following the upgrade of facilities at the Benin airport under the Governor Godwin Obaseki administration.

Determined to reposition the airport and boost investment by creating a business-friendly environment for investors to thrive in Edo State, the state government in collaboration with the Federal Government, contributed to the upgrade of the facility, including the installation of night landing equipment.

Consequently, the development, in recent times, has led to an increasing number of air passengers using the route, as well as the extension of more airlines operating in the state.

Prior to now, there were few airlines operating in the state but the narrative has changed as more airlines are gradually leveraging on the improved services at the Benin airport.

In addition to Arik Air and Air Peace that have been operating in the state, other airlines such as Max Air, Azman Air, Aero Contractors, Green Africa are now cashing in on the growing passengers’ traffic through the Benin-Lagos, Benin-Abuja among others.

“The Benin Airport is a very pivotal aspect of the plan to rejig the state economy because one of the ways to keep an economy afloat is to ensure people have access to that economy. One way to ensure people have access to an economy, especially in the Nigeria of today, is to build the infrastructure for airplanes to come into those areas. And that is why for His Excellency, Governor Godwin Obaseki, the airport is pivotal to his plan,” Crusoe Osagie, Special Adviser on media projects to the governor, said.

Osagie told BusinessDay in Benin City that before the governor came on board, there was no night landing facility, and once it got to 5 pm or 6 pm, planes could no longer come into Benin airport and couldn’t leave which significantly impacted businesses in the state.

He said the governor made significant investments side by side with the federal ministry of aviation and then the structure was put in place to ensure all the equipment, lighting were procured and security were provided to protect the place.

“So, first, we worked with the airport management to take a step further because there are 24 hours in a day and when night comes doesn’t mean that business activities should end. So, how do you keep business ongoing even though night has come? One way to do it is to provide lighting.

Consequent to the governor’s policies to boost operations at the Benin airport, he said the number of airlines that used to come in as at the time Obaseki came into office was about two airlines which were Arik and Air Peace but at the moment, they are now more than five airlines.

According to him, “The governor has achieved a tremendous feat and as I speak, planes come into the state at midnight and businesses can continue. This has greatly improved commerce, industry and business transactions in the state.”

On airport expansion to accommodate more airlines and ease passengers traffic, he said: “We cannot embark on expanding the airport because it is owned by the Federal Government. However, we can help to facilitate better services in the airport by working with the airport management and the Federal Ministry of Aviation. That is what we are doing and we have seen results from it.

“More airlines want to come in and destinations are increasing. That is being achieved by facilitating a better environment within the airport. But as for expanding the airport, we don’t have the powers to do so.”

Realising that more persons need to fly into the state, the governor’s media aide said plans are underway to construct an airport in Edo North senatorial district to make the area more accessible and stimulate economic activities in the state.

“We are already talking with regulatory agencies to get approval to kick-start the project. The northern part of the state has a lot of business activities, especially in the mining sector such as BUA cement mining limestone, Dangote cement is also preparing to set up his plant to mine limestone,” he said.

Focused on reviving and restoring activities to the airport, the governor, at the International Civil Aviation Day, assured the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and other relevant agencies of more reforms and policies to boost operations at Benin airport.

Obaseki noted that attempts made to reposition the airport have resulted in the influx of people in and out of the state through air transportation, thereby leading to an upswing of economic activities.

“I am elated today that planes can land in Benin City at night because of the decision we undertook to partner with the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) to install key equipment required for smooth night operations at the airport.

“The state government constructed three security watchtowers; supplied and built houses for two 20KVA generators; provided 3 Hilux vehicles to FAAN and facilitated the installation of CAT II Instrument Landing System/Distance measuring equipment by NAMA.

“The Federal Government through Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) provided thunder and lighting system; met enclosure and secure Aviation Date Information System while FAAN provided enhanced Simple Approach Landing system.”

Speaking on the state of the airport, Ekene Enechukwu, head of operations, Benin airport, said kudos must be given to governor Obaseki for initiating the installation of the instrument landing system, and the Federal Government, who had ensured the instruments were provided to enable night operations in Benin airport.

“We must give credit to the Federal Government and the Minister of Aviation for sponsoring this project. We also appreciate the Edo State Governor who was instrumental in the improvement of the airport. We now have airfield lighting which aids aircraft to land at night. Also, there is the runway light, Instrument Landing System (ILS), and even when there is bad weather, airplanes can land at night,” Enechukwu said.

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Enechukwu said though the Benin airport is not a 24-hour airport because of the Instruments Landing System and airfield lighting systems, aircraft can land at night on request.

“If for any reason, any of the airlines operate late due to delays or operational issues and will arrive late, they will request for extension which will be granted. So, it is on that note that they will have operational time exceeding 7pm,” he said.

The head of operations said a lot has changed in the airport as passengers traffic has increased tremendously while more airlines are gradually operating the Benin route.

He opined that the Benin airport is the busiest domestic airport in Nigeria, noting that the average passengers movement ranges between 42,000 and 43,000 monthly.

“In fact, in the month of December, we did 58,000 passengers movement. The traffic has increased and more airlines have come. Presently, we have six airlines operating namely; Arik, Air Peace, Max Air, Azman Air, Aero Contractors and Green Africa which is the latest that joined few months ago.

“We are expecting more, there is one called Valuejet which has indicated interest and I am sure in the next one or two months, they will start operating because we have given them space. A lot of other airlines are also showing interest,” he added.

Lucky Osarenoma, a passenger, commended government at all levels for the efforts put in place to modernise the Benin airport, saying that the airport, which used to be a sleepy place, is now full of activities – ranging from an increased number of passengers to boost in commercial activities.

One of the airlines operator staff, who didn’t want to be mentioned in print, said the night landing facility is working well, adding that “we now receive between 12 and 14 flights on a daily basis as against a fewer number previously.

A driver at the airport car hire service, who craved anonymity said “the night landing facility was done under the administration of Governor Godwin Obaseki. Prior to now, once it is 6pm, everyone is done for the day because most airplanes can’t land at night but since he came on board and found a way to bring the lighting system, we have been enjoying our business during night operations.

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