In its determination to clean up the airports, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria has commenced the removal of abandoned and decrepit aircraft.
For years, the apron of the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos has been consigned to a graveyard for abandoned aircraft, with overgrown weed all over them. Air travellers are confronted with several rusty aircraft littering the airport. It is not different at other airports across the country; abandoned and disused aircraft whose owners are either in business or out of business have over the years littered the adjoining areas of the runways.
For instance, as a plane taxies for take-off at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, a passenger looking through the window would shudder at the sight of dusty planes abandoned within the vicinity. "Those planes are without engines," explained a FAAN official. But now the authority says there are no more graveyards for abandoned and decrepit aircraft at the Nigeria's airports.
Since 2006, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) dissatisfied with the ugly sight, the environmental hazard and security threat to the aviation industry has appealed to the owners of the airplanes to remove them. But its appeal has either fallen on deaf ears or was completely ignored. In response, the owners of the abandoned planes have either taken the authority to court or completely disregarded court orders in favour of FAAN.
In March 2009, FAAN gave owners of the disused and unserviceable aircraft up till December 31, 2009, to dismantle or remove them from airside and other prohibited places at the airports to give room for safe operations. FAAN said the order became necessary because of the security and safety implications the abandoned aircraft posed.
Two weeks ago, FAAN once more issued a threat to the owners of the airplanes that are no longer airworthy to take them out of the airport or surrender them to FAAN to be taken away from the airport. The latest directive by FAAN was the fifth in four years. But two weeks after the expiry of the deadline, the owners of such abandoned aircraft are yet to comply with the directive.
And last Wednesday FAAN made good its threat to dismantle the dead airplanes as it commenced operations for the removal of the abandoned airplanes to ensure safety at the airports. A total of 65 aircraft abandoned at various airports across the country by domestic airlines will be dismantled and given to a recycle firm.
According to FAAN's Director of Airport Operations, Captain Henry Omoegwu, "They constituted safety risks to passengers, aircraft and airport users, especially at this time when civil aviation is undergoing severe security challenges globally."
Omoegwu said: "We are in the process of certifying our airports. We will start the certification of the Lagos and Abuja airports during the first quarter of this year. Certifying our airports will bring in more investors into the aviation industry. We are building new airports and transforming the industry. We are running with the government's transformation agenda.
Omoegwu who heads the Task force on abandoned aircraft said that the presence of these abandoned aircraft at airports in the country was stopping the authority from inviting the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to start the certification of the airports which will provide a proof that the aerodrome meets required standard and that facilities at the airports are safe.
When THISDAY visited the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos last Friday, workers were seen dismantling the aircraft. The first airplane to be dismantled was a Boeing 727-200 belonging to FAAN. The agency had acquired the aircraft for safety demonstrations, but it has been grounded since 2007. In all, 13 airplanes would be dismantled at the Lagos Airport in 13 days.
At the site, a retired wing commander in the Nigerian Air Force and current Logistic Officer of AAYU Steel, Mr. Bashir Haruna whose company is handling the dismantling said that they were taking apart the aircraft into smaller parts which would be given to an aluminum company for recycling to produce roofing sheets, household materials and at restaurants.
He said: "The dismantled parts have a lot of use in the small scale industries particularly those ones that are in aluminum production and will be used in producing roofing sheets and sliding doors. They can also be used for building a cyber café."
"We are going to dismantle 13 aircraft in Lagos and it will take us about 13 days in dismantling these aircraft which invariably is one per day with our engineers on site. We will thereafter move to Abuja."
According to the Director of Corporate Communication at FAAN, Mr. Yakubu Dati,
the contractors handling the project took it up without any financial commitment from FAAN.
Dati said, "There is no cost to FAAN. We have equally demonstrated our sincerity by starting with the dismantling of our own grounded aircraft. Airports are not dumping grounds for any operator. We are more concerned about the safety and security implications of these aircraft at the airports. Even, there is an environmental implication for this. For instance, reptiles may hide inside of any of the aircraft.
"We are determined to create a world-class airport environment for our users. Leaving them here now does not make any economical benefit to the owners. It is better we remove them from the airport and make the environment friendly to investors."
Though there are still outstanding court cases over the issue of the abandoned aircraft, FAAN's Director of Legal Services, Mark Jacob, maintained that most of them have been resolved, stressing that personal interest must not override the issue of safety.
A close look at some of the abandoned aircraft revealed that many have deteriorated beyond redemption such that they can only be sold as scrap to aluminum smelters or iron and steel factories at peanuts.
The airlines that have abandoned aircraft at various airports in Nigeria include: Aviation Development Corporation (ADC), Albarka, NICON Airways, Chanchangi, Fresh Air Limited, Executive Aviation Services (EAS), Space World, IRS, Associated Airlines and Dasab. Others are Sosoliso, Harka Air, Harco, KOLKOL, Chrome, Afrijet, Gas Air, Freedom Air, Kabo Air, Okada Air, Savannah, Hamza, Bellview, Triax, Oriental, Capital Air, Easy Link, Skyline Aviation, Intercontinental Air, Concorde, Southern Air, Buray Air, Allied and UMAR.