Call it a lack of planning, you may not be entirely wrong. The lack of foresight for the newly built terminal in Lagos has kept foreign airlines away from it, writes WOLE SHADARE
No one would have expected a multi-million dollar Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, to remain idle months after the facility was commissioned in April by President Muhammadu Buhari considering the fact that for many years, the project, which was expected to be completed in about two years, took almost nine years to materialise.
The project, which commenced in 2013, was among the five terminals in Port-Harcourt International Airport, Muritala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe International, Abuja, Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano and the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, funded with a $500 million loan from the Export and Import Bank of China, with China’s construction firm, CCECC, handling the projects.
The Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport in Abuja is projected to serve 16 million passengers annually, up from its current capacity of six million.
With a capacity for 25 million passengers per annum from the current seven million passengers it presently serves, the international airport in Lagos would retain the lion’s share of the projected capacity of 62 million passengers for the nation’s new aviation hubs.
While the country waited for so long for the Lagos project to be completed, not a few are worried that the relocation of international airlines to the facility could also take an eternity, a situation that has caused raised eye-brow over the country’s lack of planning when it comes to the provision of infrastructure in the country, particularly in the aviation industry.
The conceptualisation of the project was a welcome development, coming at a time most facilities at the country’s aerodromes were in a decrepit state and needed urgent refurbishment or replacement.
Many of the international airport terminals were becoming congested and overcrowded. As good as the projects were, proper planning and location of the Lagos and Abuja terminal were particularly worrisome.
The newly opened Lagos airport international terminal was not only sited in a faulty place, but the planers, non-professionals as it were, took the decision that has, for now, made the terminal not totally fit for use.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), in conjunction with the Ministry of Aviation, is spending so much to rectify infrastructure anomalies associated with the location of the terminal.
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 multi-million 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.
Foreign airlines do not joke with security and would avoid runway collision and any other act that threaten their equipment and passengers; the reason virtually all of them are not in a hurry to leave the old facility where they are, to a new, spacious one.
The same mistake was made with the construction of the Abuja International Airport terminal, which is obstructing the view of air traffic controllers, forcing government to invest more in mobile towers for Abuja.
New costs to make facilities work
Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, had, in 2016, disclosed that the Federal Government could spend over N26 billion to build new control towers and fire stations at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.
He admitted that the two new international airport terminals being built directly beside the Lagos and the Abuja airports are wrongly sited.
The Abuja terminal is said to be obstructing access to the runway from the control tower. There are also problems with the location of the new terminal in Lagos.
As such, the minister said recently that the Federal Government was considering demolishing the two multibillion-naira international airport terminals in Lagos and Abuja or pulling down and relocating the control towers and fire service stations in order to ensure efficient operations at the airports.
Due to the apron issue, international carriers continue to fly in and out of the old Terminal 1, which remains as busy as ever.
Airlines shun new terminal
However, majority of airlines are shunning the new terminal in favour of the old Terminal I. This is reportedly due to the lack of apron space at Terminal II, which is not wide enough to accommodate certain wide-body aircraft like the B787 Dreamliner, B777, B747, and A330.
Several carriers, including Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, British Airways and Air Peace have not relocated international operations to the new terminal due to this issue.
Call for action
Piqued by the turn of events, the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) called on the Federal Government to urgently address the serious shortcomings of the newly commissioned Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) so as to put the terminal to use.
The National President of NUATE, Ben Nnabue, said it would be a major disservice to this administration should the terminal turn out to be a white elephant, stressing that this must be avoided at all costs.
He said: “We also call on the Federal Government to urgently address the serious shortcomings of the newly commissioned international terminal at MMIA so as to put the terminal to use. It will be a major disservice to this administration should the terminal turn out to be a white elephant. This must be avoided at all cost.”
While Air Peace moved into the ultra-modern Terminal II a few days ago, majority of airlines are shunning the new terminal in favour of the older Terminal I. This is reportedly due to the lack of apron space at Terminal II, which is not wide enough to accommodate certain wide-body aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, 777, 747 and Airbus A380.
The lack of space has constrained foreign airlines from using the facility, a situation that had forced FAAN and, by extension, the Ministry of Aviation, to consider the demolition of facilities around the area.
Government, in 2013, did not take into consideration the space for the terminal project as it was hurriedly conceived. There was a huge design problem and many other issues that led to the delay in completing the project within two years. The terminal was completed seven years after.
The new terminal features 66 check-in counters, 16 arrival immigration desks, 28 departure immigration desks, eight security screening points, a multi-layer baggage sorting system, five arrival gates, six departure gates, and seven boarding bridges.
Moving airlines in phases
The Managing Director of FAAN, Capt. Rabiu Yadudu, said that the movement of airlines from the old Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, to the new terminal, would be in phases.
The FAAN MD, while reacting to disappointment and the unwillingness of foreign carriers to relocate to the newly commissioned facility, stressed that even in advanced countries, all airlines do not relocate to a new terminal at once
According to him, “the terminal is opened. 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.”
The Lagos airport terminal is old and becoming too congested for travelers and airport users alike. The delay in the relocation of airlines to the new terminal would amount to spending millions of dollars to keep a new facility closed or used.