Sunday Magazine

MMIA: An airport battling to regain lost glory

Despite billions of naira said to be generated annually from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), there are still unpleasant tales of its decrepit facilities on the lips of Nigerians. In this report, LADESOPE LADELOKUN writes on the state of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport and why concerned authorities must ensure that the problems with the new terminal are expeditiously resolved

 

 

Nurudeen Ayedun was done accompanying his Holland-based elder brother to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. At least, a phone conversation with his supposed lover revealed, as he headed home at about 8.00 pm on Monday, June 27,2022.

But that was enough to start a conversation with an eavesdropping correspondent beside him.

Sunday Telegraph: My brother, good evening. Nurudeen: Good evening. Sunday Telegraph: Forgive me, I listened to your conversation with your… (laughs) Nurudeen: Oh, no wahala. Sunday Telegraph: Okay. But what is your general assessment of this airport?

Nurudeen: Well, I’ve been to other international airports in Nigeria. Trust me, this one is the best. There’s enough space. There’s adequate security. I can go on and on. If I compare and contrast, this airport is far ahead of others in Nigeria. Sunday Telegraph: Wow. Interesting! Nurudeen: Yeah.

Though I’ve not travelled outside Nigeria, from what I can see here, I think this is the best we have.

For Steven Atuma (not real name) who was  given away by his heavy luggage as a fresh returnee to Nigeria, the Murtala Mohammed International Airport aptly fits the description of the proverbial one-eyed king in the community of the blind. Having visited two international airports in Africa – Ethiopia and Egypt- and five outside Africa, he quivered at the mention of the MMIA as Nigeria’s best airport.

“See, apart from this place, I’ve seen seven international airports in other countries. I can confidently tell you that this is the worst I’ve seen. From the passport control to where you claim your baggage, it’s offensive smell everywhere. The heat is killing. The carousel, escalators and air conditioners are not functional. It’s a sorry case.

 

So, what’s here that will make anyone be proud to be a Nigerian? What we have here does not portray us as a serious country.” Also, narrating her experience at the MMIA, Nollywood actress, Dami Elebe, tweeted: “The entire Murtala Muhammed International Airport is leaking. Everywhere! Emirates had to give them a blanket to wipe the entrance into the ramp of the plane .They had to move the AC from the wall because water was leaking on it. Puddles everywhere. WILD.”

“How can an airport not have central cooling system FFS? The immigration place was smelling like piss. Then, the baggage carousel? It’s broken. It’s even pushing bags off the carousel.

And I saw this carousel when it was new a few years ago. “Maintenance culture…zero. I’m really pissed guys. Really upset. How can this place be the first place someone sees when they fly in? What is Nigeria?” She queried.

With the media awash with reports of discomfort and outrage about what is deemed the derelict state of the MMIA, many had thought a ray of hope had beckoned when, on September 6, 2012, the then Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, announced that the Federal Government of Nigeria approved a N106 billion loan from the Exim Bank of China to construct five new international terminals, including a passenger terminal in Murtala Muhammed International Airport; something they had expected will help bid farewell to the perennial discomfort and accompanying lamentations that dog the usage of the facility.

 

Originally expected to be completed in two years, the new terminal of the MMIA took almost nine years to build. However, in spite of the multi-million dollars sunk into new terminal of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, the facility has remained idle months after the facility was commissioned on March 22, 2022 by President Buhari. The new terminal has the capacity to process 14 million passengers annually.

 

“With N30,000, a FAAN official bribed at checkpoints on my behalf”

Sharing his experience as a first-time traveller outside Nigeria, Okunade Abiola(not real name),told how he earmarked N30,000 and contracted a Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) official to ‘settle’ on his behalf at eight check points. Asked if he knew that he had committed a crime, he said “I had to do it to save me from missing my flight.”

He continued:”You are supposed to have a certain amount of money on you to travel to another country. I had my debit card with me. But they insisted I brought cash at the counter. I know a friend who had to rent dollars just because he wanted to present it at the counter, even when he had his debit card. Ordinarily, your debit card should be enough.

That’s what is obtainable in advanced countries but because they wanted to extort people, they demand cash. But I had been linked up with a FAAN official I gave N30,000 to help me ‘settle’ immigration, Cus-  toms and other people at the checkpoints. “The money included his own charge. The check points were about eight. I didn’t want to miss my flight.

Some people missed theirs. They know how to delay people. Some people got N2,000 bribe, some got N5,000 bribe. I was given a VIP ticket. But it all boils down to indiscipline. The thing is, when they know you have a virgin passport, they try to look for every avenue to extort you. Do you know how much they make on each traveller every day?

What we know about the new terminal

The project started as far back as 2013 through a concessionary loan from the China Exim Bank and was constructed by the China Civil Engineering and Construction Corporation (CCECC). Though expected to be completed in about two years, the new terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport took over eight years to materialise.

Also, other facilities in the terminal, it was learnt, include five baggage collection carousels, 16 immigration desks at arrival, 28 immigration desks at departure, eight security screening points and six-passenger boarding bridges, out of which two has already been installed.

It also has two food courts, four premium lounges, 22 guest rooms and spa, 16 airline ticketing offices, visa on arrival and port health facility, as well as praying area, more than 3,000 square metres of duty-free space, approximately 5,000 square metres of utility space, among others, Sunday Telegraph gathered. But, the majority of airlines are shunning the new terminal in favour of the older Terminal 1.

This, according to findings by Sunday Telegraph, is due to the lack of apron space at Terminal 2, which is not wide enough to accommodate certain wide body  aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, 777, 747 and Airbus A380.

New Telegraph(a sister publication to Sunday Telegraph) had earlier reported that government had to demolish some buildings belonging to FAAN to expand the apron and demolition of the Lagos office of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) to further make way for space for the terminal, just as multimillion dollar aircraft hangars belonging to some investors are at risk of being pulled down to pave the way for the maneuvering of wide-body aircraft like B747, B777, B787, A330, A340, and other bigger airplanes.

Reacting to the unwillingness of foreign carriers to relocate to the newly commissioned terminal, the Managing Director of FAAN, Capt. Rabiu Yadudu, said there was no perfect system anywhere in the world, noting that an airport could not operate in isolation from its environment.

His words: “When you commission a new terminal, you have to do an operational transfer before you can move. We decided to start moving in phases. We didn’t want everyone to move at the same time. If you remember, when Terminal 5 opened in London, it took others about six months because of some teething challenges. It is only here that people complain.

There is nowhere in the world that you have a perfect system. No airport operates in isolation from its environment. The aviation industry keeps evolving when the challenges happen and are tackled immediately. “The relocation is in phases. No airport system will say you want to relocate to a new terminal and you want to remove everybody, you will crash.

So, we sent two airlines and other ones will follow. I told them to move the airlines that operate morning and afternoon flights so that we will decongest the old terminal. “It is unfortunate that some of them said they will not move but we are not ready to compel them to move.

We just keep quiet. You cannot be a FAAN client and dictate to us. When the time comes, they must all move. Those that refused to move only want to paint us in a bad light that we don’t have a good terminal, which is not true.”

Despite complaints about poor facilities, Nigeria among African countries with high airport charges, taxes

Despite not meeting up with services standard required for airports that place such charges in some European countries, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Nigeria, alongside seven other African countries have been identified as countries with high airport charges and taxes.

Other countries include Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Bangui, Sierra Leone, the Republic of Congo, and Niger. Speaking at the 78th IATA Annual General Meeting, AGM, in Doha, IATA Director General, Willie Walsh, stated that out of the top 100 airports, more than half announced increases for 2022 and 2023, expecting their customers to make up for revenues they did not get during the pandemic.

“Try that in a competitive business. ‘Dear valued customer, we are charging you double for your coffee today because you could not buy one yesterday.’

Who would accept that?” he queried. “Many airports were addicted to a spend big and cream it off the customer’ mentality. IATA, therefore, opposes a ‘light touch’ regulation proposal by airports, and we categorically reject their characterisation of aeronautical revenue as insignificant”, Walsh added.

Responding to statements at the IATA 2022 AGM on airport charges and taxes, Airports Council International, ACI, World Director General, Luis Felipe de Oliveira said:“Recent statements made by IATA do not reflect current market and economic realities as airports, airlines, ground handlers and other stakeholders work together to rebuild the sector following a historic downturn.

At a time when the air transport industry has never been more united, it remains of utmost importance that fellow aviation organizations continue on this path of collaboration and cooperation. In this spirit, we would like to raise a few points: “While airport charges represent a small proportion of airline cost historically, they are a fundamental revenue source for airport operators to cover the cost of infrastructure.

Airport revenue generated from aeronautical charges represent as much as 55 per cent of all revenues (including passenger- and aircraft- related charges). This crucial source of revenue is necessary to invest in sustainable infrastructure and technology for current and future growth. Yet airport charges represent less than 5 per cent of airline costs historically.

“Like other businesses in the aviation ecosystem, airports are businesses in their own right. Airports lost 65.5$ billion in 2020 alone. And like many other areas of business, unit costs have gone up while unit revenues are not keeping pace. Even with significant cost cutting exercises throughout the pandemic, the financial stress endured by airport operators due passenger traffic losses is now unsustainable and cannot be absorbed.

Fundamentally, airports will always remain infrastructure-intensive businesses—this translates into unavoidable high fixed costs that must be financed. “Airport charges have been declining prior to the pandemic across all regions. Global airport charges per passenger have on average declined by approximately 20 per cent in real terms in the five years up to 2019.

It is important to remind critics that regulated airport charges across many jurisdictions in their current state are inversely linked to traffic levels. In other words, this means that when traffic levels are low, charges rise (and vice versa). “From a policy perspective, and beyond the rhetoric, regulators must consider what is ultimately best for the consumer.

It is important to emphasize that airports invest in not only infrastructure that generates socio-economic benefits but also the passenger experience. What’s more, significant investment will be needed to transition to sustainable energy sources.

“Overall, it is time to modernize the economic oversight of airport charges to something that is more reflective of market conditions, allowing for risk to be shared across airlines and airports.

We have outlined this clearly in our Policy Brief on the matter. Fundamentally, global regulatory frameworks need to be fair for the entire ecosystem, so we can collectively thrive and rebuild a sustainable future to best serve our end user—the passenger.”

MMIA cannot make less than N100billion annually – but does it get 5 per cent for maintenance? – Aviation Consultant, Ojikutu

 

According to aviation consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu(rtd), the MMIA cannot make less than N100billion annually but insists FAAN must be asked if it gives five per cent of the said amount to the airport for maintenance.

“There is what they call a kind of periodic maintenance. We need to find out if there has been periodic maintenance. If you pick MMIA, for instance, we need to find out what earning it is making based on the number of traffic. What should be the earning?

 

How much money are they getting? What should they be getting? It’s not every opera-

 

tor that is paying o. They are making money and they are getting intervention funds from government. “There are problems. Yes! I agree. I’ve always said it that if MMIA is collecting N100 every month, it should be able to spend 5 per cent or 10 per cent of that money on the maintenance of that airport. Find out how much money is given to MMIA from the earnings. But first, you need to find out how much FAAN is getting from that airport. I can tell you, MMIA cannot make less than N100billion annually. But how many airlines are paying what they are supposed to pay to FAAN?

We must start with the airlines first? Then, we need to find out from FAAN if it gives MMIA 5 per cent of the earnings to run that airport. Every operator is supposed to drop their balance sheet with NCAA every year. You see, there are many questions to ask. Last year, the minister of finance told FAAN to remit 25 per cent of their earnings to the federation account. Have they remitted that amount of money? There’s a lot of things wrong.

Maybe, it’s the reason government is talking about concessioning the airport. I’ve told them they need to know the value of the airport. They don’t know the value of the airport. We cannot continue to depend on government intervention fund to run the airport that is supposed to make money for government.”

Speaking further with Sunday Telegraph, he said: “If you have a child that is working and is always asking you for money, are you not supposed to ask: how much is your salary? What do you do with your salary? How many children have you got? How many wives have you got?

How much money do you pay for rent? You almost ask all these questions. Are we asking questions? That is the point I’m trying to make. So, if the facilities are bad, there is a reason for it. Are the people using those facilities paying? The answer is yes. Okay, FAAN, these people have been paying you. How much money have you collected? How much money have you collected?

How much money have you spent on this airport? I’m working on it for them. I’ve told them, this is so much you should be getting from them.”

‘That airport has always been an eyesore’

Responding to Nollywood actress, Dami Elebe’s viral tweet, Twitter users shared their experiences: OBIdientEkitipikin@_heorshe- wrote: “I witnessed that last Decemeber. I used 3 airports. MMIA was the worst in terms of any index you can imagine of an airport. The temperature at the cocoon-sized passport control unit was like a sunny day in Kano. It’s obvious things are getting worse.

This is the achievements BAT wants to continue.” Nigeria@naijaeikn wrote: “It’s a shame . Remember some months ago, landing in Nigeria, we were all sweating, queuing at the immigration. They purchased fan to blow arrivals. @610ls wrote: “Last time I was there was about four years ago.

 

The place stinked and they didn’t have power for about an hour before I left. Big shame.” MacDonald The Man@MacDonaldkyng wrote: “Also talk about the fact that the airport Wifi is not working. You have to connect to a private network.”

 

 

Wemmy@wemmytrendy wrote: “That airport has always been an eyesore. The Air conditioner never works.” Spencer@R99ronaldo wrote: “That airport needs a complete overhaul.

Year in, year out, I’ve experienced it all – from heatwave(no power) to elevators not working to water leakage to immigration systems not working and someone writing down our passport numbers.”

People just want to talk, we’re working -FAAN

Reacting, Faithful Hope-Ivbaze, General Manager, Public Affairs, FAAN, said it was not possible for facilities built 40 years ago to remain the same. According to her, work is ongoing to improve the facilities at the airport. “When things happen, just like in our homes, when things go wrong, we attend to them. We doing stuff. It’s the same thing that happens in our daily lives.

We cannot just close our eyes. The aviation industry is highly regulated and safety of our passengers is our concern. We will not just watch and see that something is wrong and we will not do something about it.

We are doing something. You should also know that when this airport was built, the volume of passengers that was passing through that airport is not the same volume now. Our population has increased and our facilities are stretched. And that is why the government thought it wise to build new airports. We are doing something.

All the roofing sheets now are being changed. It’s actually embarrassing. I’m not saying it’s not embarrassing. I’m not saying criticism is not okay. With criticism, you will do the right thing. You cannot expect that facilities built 40 years ago will remain the same,” she told Sunday Telegraph. Asked what FAAN does with revenues generated by the MMIA, she said: “Who are the people saying they are making money and remitting to FAAN?

Who are the people saying they are making money and remitting to FAAN? You should also know that government does not give us subvention for anything apart from capital projects. There is so much demand. It’s just like a man that has a family; the children cry for different things.

You have a lot of things you’re taking care of. The money made from MMIA goes to one purse. And it is from that pool we draw funds to maintain facilities within all the airports.” When reminded that complaints about the state of facilities at the MMIA said to be maintained with funds generated from it remain unceasing, she said: “The state of facilities are up to standard.

The only thing is that people just want to talk. But as things happen, they are being taken care of. As people share their experiences, we take care of the facilities they complain about. We can’t just fold our arms. We are working.”

 

How to stop complaints about MMIA

In a chat with Sunday Telegraph, Aba Ocheme, General Secretary of National Union of Air Transport Employees, said the MMIA can no longer be run in an efficient manner as it can no longer serve its purpose.

“It is because of the state of the airport that made the Federal Government to have a new terminal. The old facility can no longer be operated in any efficient manner. These complaints will not abate until they fully move from there. The new terminal has space constraints. It is still work in progress.

And you’re aware that there is talk about concession. All these things are indications that that both government and everybody that that airport is no longer in a state to serve its purpose.” On the problems with the new terminal, he said, “That tells you that process was put together in a hurry. We are aware that that sight is not the original sight of the new terminal.

The original sight is the other location on the left hand side if you’re approaching the terminal. There is no doubt that we have very serious issues with the MMIA. They can only be solved via a new terminal. Until we get our acts right,these complaints will continue.”

 

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