• Friday, July 19, 2024
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Nigeria’s poor states pour billions in airports with few passengers

Nigeria’s poor states pour billions in airports with few passengers

Nigeria’s state governments are putting billions of taxpayers’ money into white elephant airport projects with little passenger traffic across the country.

The viability of these multi-billion-naira projects remains questionable, considering the low level of passenger and aircraft traffic originating and terminating from them.

A breakdown of state airport expenditures shows that Bayelsa State spent N60 billion on its airport, while Akwa Ibom spent N20 billion. Delta and Jigawa spent N17 billion each, while Bauchi pumped N15 billion into an airport project.

Read also: Only 3 airports profitable in Nigeria, others subsidized FAAN MD

Kebbi, on its part, spent N15 billion on an airport. Other states which are on the same journey are: Ogun (N20 billion), Ekiti, (N20 billion), Abia (N40, billion) Kebbi State (N15 billion), Nasarawa State (N40 billion), Osun (N40 billion) and Zamfara (N62.8 billion) billion.

Anambra State cargo airport in South-East Nigeria cost N10 billion, while Bayelsa International Airport gulped N60 billion.

More so, Wachakal Airport, Damaturu, Yobe State, costs N18 billion but is still uncompleted. Dutse International Airport, Jigawa, cost N20 billion.

Despite billions pumped into these airports, Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu generate 89. 7 percent passenger traffic in the country. The remaining 10 percent are shared by the remaining 27 state airports.

In 2022, the passenger traffic stood at 16.2 from 14.2 million passengers in 2021, indicating a 13 percent increase over the period.

There are 32 airports in Nigeria, including five recognised international aerodromes, which are: Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja; Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA); Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), and Akanu Ibiam International Airport (AIIA), Enugu.

Out of the over 16 million travellers that were airlifted into and out of the country in 2022, the five airports listed above were responsible for carrying 89.7 percent of all the travellers within the period, while the other 27 airports airlifted just 10.3 percent of passengers within the period.

Passenger traffic reducing to 15.89 million passengers in 2023, data says. Consequently, experts say there are no passengers to occupy the ‘white elephant projects’ being built across states in Nigeria.

“Governments have very little or nothing to do with commercial aviation services other than the safety and security services, standards regulations, oversight and enforcement,” said John Ojikutu, former airport commandant and the CEO of Centurion Aviation Security and Safety Consult Nigeria.

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“Akure Airport in Ondo State, less than 40 minutes’ drive from Ado Ekiti, has not recorded up to 200,000 passenger traffic in the last 10 years. Why would Ekiti build another airport without finding out how much of the 200,000 passenger traffic is from the state?

“Same with Umueri in Anambra State in between Enugu and Asaba. Ebonyi is next door to Enugu; Abia plans an airport between Owerri and Port Harcourt. So are many like that in the north, especially Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba, among others,” he noted.

He said what these states need is to build toll express roads between their state capitals and nearest airports.

Ojikutu said most people who travel by air are mainly government and corporate officials whose trips are generally official and fares paid by their employers.

“It makes no economic sense for the states building airports when they should divert the money to other social services like schools, hospitals, roads,” he added.

Seyi Adewale, chief executive officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited, told BusinessDay that there are genuine concerns with many airport projects across different states in Nigeria.

Adewale said there is poor maintenance of these airports, noting that the majority of the state governments do not have the requisite skills or structures to maintain effective airports.

“Some states are passing airport maintenance to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), which is still overburdened with maintaining its primary airports across the country.

“Many of these state airports do not have the present capacity to generate enough revenue, cannot attract concessionaires due to low state gross domestic product (GDP), poor status of its citizens, low propensity for businessmen to gravitate there, or other considerations for trade, politics, and tourism. They cannot attract enough investors or tourists into many of these states,” he said.

Horace Miller-Jaja, a recently retired passenger pilot, described the state airports being built as ‘political misfits’ because most have no economic value.

According to Miller-Jaja, huge amounts of money are spent building them, which could be better spent on other sectors of the state.

“They are under-utilised. Airlines do not fly there because there is no passenger traffic or cargo to uplift. What you find is the state handing the airport to the Federal Government to own and operate.

Read also: International flights undisrupted as unions again shut down local airports

“The maintenance of airports in the past has been extremely poor, given the operating modus of FAAN. The constant change of management of FAAN over the years has not helped because each new management comes in with its own plans and ideas for development and upgrade,” he said.

The captain explained that no room was made for physical expansion when these airports were built, noting that a lot of airport terminal buildings have been abandoned.

Olumide Ohunayo industry analyst and director, Research, Zenith Travels, argued that some of the airports being built are viable but lack of capacity, competition and innovation has made passenger growth stagnant.

“It is not about the airport being built, but about the airlines. It is the airlines that are making the airports inefficient.

“Airlines can go to these hinterland airports and operate flights such as Benin-Asaba, Asaba-Owerri, Kebbi, Kano. We have pushed this to the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and we are going to escalate it. If we can get that, this will make some of these airports have flight activities. These airlines can start this as a social responsibility,” Ohunayo said.

He said there is a need to look at how to work on the airlines and the process of obtaining the air operating certificate (AOC).

He also said there is a need to harmonise the documents rather than make it cumbersome and expensive for airlines.

Christopher Penninck, managing director, Asaba Airport Company, argued that passenger traffic is not a good indicator of airport viability in Nigeria.

Penninck said it is rather the availability of seats, noting that airlines go through very rough times and they can’t provide enough seats in the face of demand.

However, Olubunmi Kuku, the managing director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, has said that only three of Nigeria’s 22 airports are profitable.

Kuku, who was a guest on the Channels TV Morning Show on Tuesday, said other airports are being subsidised as they do not get passenger traffic commensurate with their operational costs.