At no time is the peril of congestion at the Lagos airport apron more exposed than when a neutral person visits and witness the eyesore of disorderliness, writes WOLE SHADARE
Even as they expand their operations, Nigeria’s major airport, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, is operating below capacity. Although traffic has quadrupled over the years, congestion at both cargo and passenger aprons of the country’s busiest airport is giving both managers of the airport and foreign airlines huge concern.
The Lagos international airport terminal, which was commissioned in 1979, was designed to accommodate about one million passengers a year but ended handling more than three million passengers in 2018.
Also, when the airport was commissioned in 1979, the airport was having just eight aflight movement. The airport then handled just one cargo aircraft in one week. Now, there are about 30 with DHL using MMIA as their home.
Early this year, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) disclosed that a total of 15.2 million passengers passed through Nigerian airports in 227,834 aircraft movements in 2018. This was revealed in FAAN’s 2018 annual report released recently.
The report posted an increase of 2.5 million passengers from 12.7 million passengers recorded in 2017, representing 19.11 per cent increase. It also revealed an increase of 27,068 from the 200,766 aircraft movements recorded in 2017, representing 11.48 per cent increase.
Most airline executives know that congestion is a growing trend and has a general sense of what to expect when a hub or home airport begins approaching maximum capacity.
What one sees at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport terminal in Lagos is an eyesore. Operators of wide-body airplanes practically abandon their aircraft on the apron for years without consideration for other users of the facility. The aprons are so congested that they pose serious security issues to other foreign airlines that have complained of the attitude of the owners.
Arik’s A340-500 airplane is sitting on a strategic area of the tarmac, thereby constituting nuisance and distorting the aesthetics of the area. The wide-body is weather beaten after it was exposed to the elements more than four years ago. FAAN seems to be helpless in forcing the owners to remove them as they hold claim to the fact that Lagos is their home base, thereby excluding them from paying charges on their parked aircraft.
Nigeria’s biggest airline by aircraft size has three B777S parked also indiscriminately on the apron for over a year; a situation that has raised eyebrow over the propriety of parking three big aircraft for one year, six months and one month respectively. Airplanes are bought to be in the air and not on ground. It also raised curiosity on exactly what the owners want to achieve with just parking of wide-body on the tarmac to rot away.
But the airline assured that the airplanes would be put to use as quickly as possible and deployed on international routes to London and the United Arab Emirates.
Medview and Allied Air equally have their aircraft parked at the cargo ramp of the Lagos, making it impossible for four big cargo aircraft to park to discharge their cargoes. Some of them like DHL take the tortuous journey of parking at the passenger apron of the airport. This puts enormous costs on the airline and ground handling firms who truck their cargo from the international wing of the Lagos airport to the cargo apron.
Plans for extension
A guided tour of the area by New Telegraph shows that the open expanse of land is supposed to be extended apron of the cargo terminal but along the line, contractors abandoned the project about ten years after budgetary allocations had been made. FAAN equally has congestion problems which could lead to incidents and accidents. There are indications that the management is trying to revive the contract and ensure that extension of the area is done.
FAAN engages aircraft owners
Regional Manager, South West of FAAN, Mrs. Victoria Shin-Aba, said from the original plan, the proposed expansion would take eight wide-body aircraft.
According to her, “not all of the aircraft are unserviceable. Some are serviceable but for reasons known to the owners, they decided to keep them here. We have written to them to take them to lesser busy airports at no additional cost to them. FAAN is even ready to wave parking fees for them just to ensure that they move their aircraft to a better place.
“We are urging them to go to smaller ones so that we will have space for safe flight movement. We have reached out to them. We have had meetings with them last week but. We are working together. We have a graveyard for those that are not serviceable, but these ones are serviceable.”
She explained that FAAN had seven bridges with three on one side meant for parking of wide-body airplanes like the B747, A330, and A340 among others by parking side by side each order without any safety risk..
“Here, we park Virgin and British Airways here. They have been using it since time immemorial. This place is home for British Airways. At the other side, you can’t big aircraft side by side. Now that we have Emirates at that side, we cannot park big aircraft near or beside it, we part a smaller one beside it.
“The Arik Air’s aircraft you are seeing there has been parked there since February 2015. We are seriously talking with Arik and we have reached understanding to move them to somewhere that it will not disrupt operations too much. We have to be careful of security too so that we don’t move them to where they will vandalise them.
“One of the aircraft belonging to Air Peace, a B777 has been there for more than six months. The other Air Peace aircraft also a B777 has been parked there for over a year and the third one was brought in February this year,” she added.
Shin-Aba lamented that the situation posed serious safety issue to the airport, adding that they caused serious security issue.
She said: “It discourages investors. It discourages people coming in especially cargo like DHL that is when they come, we ask them to go to International area to offload. It puts extra cost on them. Those are the issues that these overstayed aircraft are causing.”
She lambasted the attitude of some Nigerian airlines for their disregard of laid down procedure or in conforming to rules of engagement.
According to her, “if an international airline is bringing in different aircraft from what they normally operate, they will write you and tell you that they are coming with A330 or A350 and ask if we have a space and facilities for them on ground to accommodate them.
“At times they send their technical staff down. But Nigerian operators will go book aircraft, knowing what we have on ground. Less than 24 hours, they will tell us they are bringing an aircraft. Yes, it is the responsibility of FAAN for not expanding facilities as much as the growth is not marching it up but then, when we now that this is what we have on ground, you have to sit with the operator. There are some airports all over the world too that airlines take charge of their terminals. They build terminals, they built aprons and it is the way to go. Like the A380 in Amsterdam is built by Emirates because they wanted to take A380 there.”
Not only is the sky getting busier, the Lagos airport apron from which planes operate are also bursting at the seams with permanent parking of their disused aircraft.
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