Monday, July 5, 2010

Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos

By December, 2010, Runway 18L/36R at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos re-commissioned by the former Minister of Aviation, Babatunde Omotoba would have been operating without airfield lightings for two years.

For now, aircraft can land on the runway up till 6pm. Any aircraft that comes to the domestic airport after the period lands at the international wing and taxies to the domestic wing.

During the re-commissioning, the former minister had promised that airfield lights would be installed in 10 months time. Later, the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Richard Aisuebeogun confirmed that contract for the project had been awarded and the job would be delivered soon.

"We are working assiduously to mobilise the contractor; the contractor is in the process of being paid; he is just about signing the agreement with the authority. Once he signs the agreement in the next few days, he should be mobilised to start work very soon. He has given us a (completion period of) 10 months. The contractor has met with the airport authority and we have planned the time that he should be able to work effectively,” Aisuegbeogun said in May 2009.

The runway at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos has been handling only day- time operations because of the absence of airfield lightings. Airline operators and stakeholders in the aviation industry complain about the cost implication of having to taxi from the international wing to domestic, as well as the dilapidated infrastructure at the entire Lagos airport. IME AKPAN examines the crisis.

Equally, the new minster, Fidelia Njeze, who has been high on promises, but zero on delivery, said last April, when she embarked on the traditional inspection of airport facilities that the lighting systems would be fixed soon.

"I am sure if you go there now you will notice that work has commenced there. So, within the next three months the air field lighting will be fixed and that will reduce the distress that pilots go through, trying to taxi from the domestic to the international wing to take off after 6pm," she stated.

As at the time of filing this report, no person was seen working on RWY18L. Even if the contractor were working in the night, there would be signs that work is afoot.

Airlines operators said when the runway is closed to traffic, they lose millions of naira monthly, as a result of taxiing the long distance from the domestic terminal to the international runway which often takes between 10 and15 minutes of fuel consumption time to accomplish.

Assistant Secretary-General, Airline Operators of Nigeria, (AON), Mohammed Tukur, said the calculation that airlines were losing about N200 million monthly on extra fuel expended by aircraft to taxi to the longer international runway could be more, depending on the aircraft type. He regarded such expenditure as unnecessary, contending that such money could be conserved to take care of some other overheads.

Tukur argued that the full benefit of the runway would be felt when the airfield lightings are fixed as more flights would land and take off in the night at the airport than any other time.

The director of operations, IRS Airlines, Kenneth Wemambu explained that despite that the airline have fuel-efficient aircraft, the cost fact of taxiing to the 18R in the international wing of the airport before take-off is much.

"I think it is double taxiing time because normally it is just here. Now, you have to travel to the international terminal at 18R and in as much as both the local and international airlines use the same runway, the traffic increases. It's not just IRS, but all other airlines because we are having what is called excess taxi time," he added.

An airline operating a Boeing 727 aircraft complained that it spends N40 million monthly on the Lagos-Abuja route on fuel for just taxing to the international runway before taking-off after the closure of the runway.

"We spend an average of 1000 litres of aviation fuel to taxi to the international runway before take-off and we operate six flights to Abuja in a day. A litre of Jet A1 is at least N150; if multiplied by 1000 litres and by 31 days then you calculate that for a year," said the operator.

It is not only the lightings for night operations at the domestic airport that Njeze has failed to fix.

Despite President Goodluck Jonathan's warning that "no minister will be allowed to go on a mission of endless search for solution," the minister's performance could be likened to a fellow who is asked to take lessons in rocket science.

On assumption of office, she said the problems in the aviation industry were yet to be addressed adequately.

"We are now going to the other area which is equally critical. That will make the services we render complete and adequate. And that is the area of comfort, enhancing and/or improving on the quality of services we render especially within the terminal section," she said.

She also added: "We are going to have our short, medium and long term measures. Yes, the problems have been there; definitely they are not going to be addressed within one week. So, we are going to set our priorities right bearing in mind that we will not compromise passengers' comfort. So, within a short while, we are going to rectify the air conditioning system to make sure that once passengers come in the temperature is actually maintained. Then, we are going to address the issue of the toilet facilities that have decayed. These are the basic comfort that passengers require from us. And I want to assure you that within the next few months you will notice a lot of changes in our airport."

There have been none. The conveyor belts, cooling system and toilet facilities at MMIA, for instance, do not function optimally.

The aviation ministry sees the airports as a milk cow. As soon as ministers are appointed, Nigerians get promises that very quickly turn out to be hot air.

Njeze's appointment came in the wake of the controversy generated by the highly controversial 4. 4 kilometre second Abuja runway which was awarded at the inflated cost of N64 billion before the presidency slashed it to N49.6 billion and finally terminated it.

Her appointment gladdened the hearts of many going by the fact that aviation industry needed an overhaul to continuously guarantee safety. However, her coming has been more of a disappointment than blessing.

To her credit, the beauty-conscious minister has so far been able to secure a moratorium for debtor airlines that owe aviation agencies more than N5 billion accruing from non-remittance of five per cent ticket sales charge factored into passenger tickets sold by the airlines and meant to be remitted to the aviation parastatals as soon as they are collected!

Under the agreement, the airlines are to clear their debts over a period of three years, while service to them would, henceforth, be rendered on cash-and-carry basis. Of course, she is aware that the airlines may never pay the backlog of debts.

As it is, the minister has taken from the parastatals the power to call any erring airline to order. Sometime in May when NCAA and NAMA tried it on Arik Air and IRS Airlines, they (agencies) incurred Njeze's reprimand.

The minister has not been able to find solution to the incessant power outage at MMIA. For instance, on May 9, 2010, the entire airport was thrown into darkness for about four hours.

The power failure became so embarrassing that recently, the Senate Committee on Aviation said it had concluded plans to probe three aviation agencies-the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) - and some concessionaires to unravel the root cause of the power outage.

Reacting to the dearth of facilities at Nigerian Airports, the chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria, Steve Mahonwu said many of the facilities are geriatric

"Those at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport put this nation to shame. The Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) at some of the airports are old and need to be changed. Equipment for the prediction and monitoring of weather are also old and need to be changed. Government should wake up now and attend to these problems if we are going to have viable aviation industry in this country," he said.

Speaking in the same vein, deputy British High Commissioner Robin Green said the situation at MMIA "is in bad condition and has been a major concern for international communities."

Green demanded to know what the government was doing about the bad road and inadequate facilities in the airport, adding that the state of MMIA could be a disincentive and deterrent to the flow of foreign direct investments.

"I have just discussed with my colleague from United States Information Service (USIS) about the state of MMIA and wanted to know what the state government was doing even though the place is not within its control; the airport serves as a window to Lagos city," he said at a forum to mark Governor Babatunde Fashola's 1,100 days in office.

Edward Olarerin, Regional Manager, (South West), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), is disturbed by the decrepit facilities at the airport. He attributed the situation to corruption saying the airport has little or nothing to show for the huge revenue it has generated.

"It will be very wrong for me to say there is no corruption at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. We generate so much but we don't get this money. It is frustrating for me when I cannot produce what I generate at MMIA. It is even more frustrating when you generate 100 per cent and you cannot collect 40 per cent due to some unseen forces. Corruption is also exhibited among the lower cadre of staff; it affects every hierarchy. Let us just join hands to move FAAN forward, there is no place where any management can eradicate corruption alone, so, let all workers and stakeholders and the media assist in this fight against corruption," he declared.

For the president of Aviation Round Table (ART) Capt. Dele Ore, the only way to make the airports profitable is through concession. He said they would remain in the present state as long as they continue to be under the management of government.

"There is no better option than to give the airports to concessionaires and make those who have money to come and invest in them. If there is going to be a future in these airports, there is no other way than to get people to come and invest so that they will plan how they intend to run the place for the future," Capt. Ore stated.

Even if the airports are parcelled out to concessionaires, critical facilities like navigational equipment, cannot be subsumed under any form of concession arrangement. Therefore, what is most important is the political will to do what is right.