• Monday, June 24, 2024
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MMIA shutdown deadline looms as investors, businesses sweat

Keyamo suspends Nigeria Air project, announces MMIA’s closure for repairs

Following the recent announcement made by Festus Keyamo, the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, announcing that the old Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) terminal will be shut down on October 1, 2023, for total repairs, stakeholders have raised concerns about the consequences of the sudden announcement.

According to them, the development may see many investments, businesses and paid contracts crumbling, sending a wrong message to prospective international investors looking to invest in the country’s aviation sector.

The Minister on Wednesday directed airlines and companies operating in the airport to move to the new terminal, MMIA Terminal Two, constructed by the Chinese company, as the old terminal will be shut down for repairs on October 1, 2023.

Read also Airline operators laud Keyamo over suspension of Nigeria Air project, others

Olumide Ohunayo, industry analyst and Director of research at Zenith Travels told BusinessDay that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has clients, and some of these clients have even paid up to the years 2024 and 2025, so the minister cannot just by order ask them to move the terminal within a month.

Ohunayo said the movement, which is supposed to be in phases, would require engagements and negotiations, adding that this way, the minister can reach a date on which all parties must agree.

“If you move the airlines out, other organizations would leave with them, including the ground handling companies, cargo handlers, security, catering, and other organizations providing services. I don’t see how the new terminal can take this upsurge within a month.

“The movement ought to be gradual. Deadlines should not be issued as though it is a military regime. The funds are not even there. All we see is people may likely be moved to another location, and after a year or two, renovations may not have occurred in the old terminal,” Ohunayo explained.

Sindy Foster, principal managing partner of Avaero Capital Partners, told BusinessDay that the minister should have fully understood the issues before making costly decisions that affect private businesses.

“The cost and practicality of the airlines relocating simultaneously is something to be considered. They should have phased it; they closed parts of MMIA at a time like elsewhere. The rolling refurbishment was even done at Schiphol, which has the same design. Retrofitting AC is possible if they use a qualified firm and eliminate the internal blocks,” Foster said.

Read also Keyamo suspends Nigeria Air project, announces MMIA’s closure for repairs

She said that while she doesn’t think the decisions are necessarily wrong, the timing is everything, adding that a more profound understanding was necessary to get the next steps right.

“I don’t understand the ‘announcement first’ than ‘work it out later’ method of administration practised in Nigeria. I understand processes: implementation plans, impact assessments, consultation, and adjustments as needed before implementation. Working things out when we have passengers and airlines all up in the air is difficult, which is why it is not done like this normally,” Foster said.

Stakeholders have said the minister needs to do a comprehensive plan to understand the extent of the renovations with a sound technical team of aviation architects and engineers, amongst others, to understand the cost and time the renovations will take.

“In a situation with so much dilapidation, the best and cheaper option might be to bring down the old structure and rebuild a new one. Technical experts will have to review and decide.

“With no budget in place, how do you finance the project in a country using 96 per cent of revenues to service debt? So it would be best if you put a sustainable finance plan in place so that the project does not stall halfway through,” a stakeholder who wants to remain anonymous said.

The stakeholders expressed concerns that the new airport does not have enough apron gates to support the traffic from the existing airport and may not be able to cope with traffic.

“We should not put the cart before the horse. This man has barely settled in his office, making sweeping statements. The logistics and complexity of running an Airport are not accessible. I hope it’s not another make-money-quick scam some evil servants have cooked up.

Read also Airport strike: Again gridlock heavy as unions rally at MMIA

“I think yet again they are putting the cart before the horse and have not thought this through. The passengers, as usual, will bear the brunt. I would have been more comfortable if this was done with next year’s budget after proper planning,” the stakeholder added.

John Ojikutu, security expert and former military commandant at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, told BusinessDay that shutting down the terminal might be desirable. Still, some safety implications would come from sideways to it.

According to him, gradually closing down a part of the terminal would reduce the number of buses on the limited areas of the present apron with no room for wide-body aircraft.

“If you have five airlines landing or taking off within two hours, you may have to deploy about ten buses for the aircraft if you do not want to cause delays. Does the terminal have more than one route between the two airports? Are there provisions for the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to certify the drivers of the buses within one month?

“Are the routes lit? Does FAAN have the financial resources to support ten buses now? The bus shuttle services should be given out as a concession to manufacturers like INNOSON because the government should not get involved in such commercial business.

“Secondly, the terminal should be given out immediately for concessions and repairs. Again, the government must not spend the scarce resources it gets from the subsidies on Airport terminal buildings and not Safety and Security infrastructures, which are the state’s obligations to Nigerian travellers and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)Ojikutu said.

Read also FG responds to public complaints, move to ensure accurate luggage measurement at MMIA

For Seyi Adewale, an aviation analyst and chief executive officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited, the main MMIA Terminal is not appealing in aesthetics and infrastructure to any passenger, guest or visitor and needs a thorough and complete overhaul.

According to Adewale, a compartmentalized or sectional overhaul will not cut it due to its dilapidated state. He concurs with its complete shutdown, stripped and overhaul by a reputable and competent contractor.

“The best time to overhaul this edifice was yesterday, and the next best time is now. Yes, it will cost money. Anything good and enduring costs money. My main concern is that it must be properly planned, articulated and executed. No room for flaws.”

He, however, explained that planning is critical to achieving this.

He hinted that with the Minister already giving an insight on acquiring buses to transport passengers to the foot of the aircraft, he said this is an acceptable practice used all over airports, even in developed countries.

He noted that It’s the sequence and slot management that has to be adequately articulated and planned.

“A new standard operating program and procedure to manage same needs to be adopted and understood by all (airliners, service providers, logistics contractors and facility managers),” he added.