Government and aviation officials have for years claimed efforts to make Nigeria the hub of the aviation sector in Africa. It must be somewhat embarrassing that none of the country's airports made it to the top ten in Africa in the 2013 Skytrax World Best Airports ranking. At Skytrax Awards held recently in Geneva, Switzerland, South African airports dominated the top ten in ranking.
Cape Town International Airport emerged the best airport in Africa, followed by Durban King Shaka International Airport and Oliver Thambo International Airport in second and third places respectively. Egypt's Cairo International Airport came fourth while the fifth position went to Mauritius International Airport and the East London Airport, South Africa was placed in the 6th position. Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia was ranked 7th and Port Elizabeth Airport South Africa in 8th position. Morocco's Marrakech Menara International Airport and Seychelles International Airport ranked 9th and 10th respectively. South Africa also made a clean sweep of the Best Airport Staff category with the international airports in Cape town, Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth taking all five positions.
Though the criteria are not clear, Nigeria's failure to feature in the top ten categories raises questions on the quality of the country's airports. This general assessment by some 12.1 million customers from all over the world has again drawn attention to the state of Nigeria's airports. In the last couple of years or so, there certainly have been some moves to upgrade facilities at airports to bring them to par with international standard. If these efforts have borne fruits, the country is yet to feet their impact. The aviation authorities should therefore view Skytrax rating as a spur to make the ongoing rehabilitation and upgrading of airports, for which so much funds have already been sunk, a success. Ethiopia has less resources but is noted globally for its high aviation safety and industry standards, making it the hub on the continent that Nigeria is aspiring to be. International airports serve not only as a nation's gateway, but also its window to the world because they are the first points of contacts for first time visitors. Such airports should be user-friendly.
But the environment for the aviation industry, especially its policy aspects, has been less than conducive recently, to say nothing of the often chaotic situation orchestrated by all manner of touts operating freely, constituting a big nuisance at most airports. This lack of orderliness at Nigerian airports is mainly responsible for the frequent cases of missing luggage and other unsavoury practices. The government's new aviation policy, unveiled recently, should also include measures to address the many challenges in this sector.
Aside from striving to meet current international safety standard, something definitely needs to be done about the problem of irregular flights. It is only on the Abuja-Lagos routes that flights are more or less regular, unlike others where cancellations are the norm. More facilities that would take the stress off travel should be provided, particularly at international airports. Constant electricity supply, functioning air conditioning systems, adequate and convenience facilities are all essentials at any airport. Decent restaurants and fast-food shops as well as medical facilities to take care of emergencies are integral parts of any good airport. All categories of workers at airports, including uniformed officials, must be trained and retrained on how to handle their duties efficiently.