The ongoing remodelling of the 22 federal airports in the country by the Ministry of Aviation is yet to make any significant impact on airports in the North in terms of patronage and revenue generation, LEADERSHIP Sunday has learnt.
Airports' officials in the region, who spoke with our correspondents on operations and facilities, admitted that though the rebranding of the airports had reached an advanced stage, they were battling with the problem of poor patronage, especially by foreign airlines.
They said that with the twin problems, the revenue profile was low amid huge expenditure in keeping the airports afloat.
But the Ministry of Aviation has said it has no hand in the poor patronage of airports in the North by foreign airlines.
LEADERSHIP Sunday learnt that most of the airports only operate international flights during the yearly hajj by Muslims to Saudi Arabia. It was discovered that the most patronised airports record a flight per day, while one of them has operated only nine flights since the beginning of the year.
Three weeks ago, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) accused the Ministry of Aviation of marginalising the North in air travel. In a statement it issued after a meeting in Kaduna, the ACF said that northerners were no longer deployed in aviation agencies, while the ministry had done nothing to encourage international flights in and out of the region.
When contacted on the claims, the media assistant to the aviation minister, Mr. Joe Obi, told our correspondent that, "We don't speak for international airlines on reasons why they are not operating flights into those airports apart from Abuja. However, we must stress that those that have indicated interest to operate at the airports have been given due approval, but why they are yet to effectively commence is outside my brief. The point has to be made, perhaps for the umpteenth time, that the ultimate decision to operate into any particular airport is purely a business decision of individual airlines.
"We must also add that all international airports across the country, including those in the North, have all necessary and essential facilities and infrastructure to handle international operations. There is no question, therefore, of lack of capacity.
"Lastly, it must be borne in mind that Aviation Minister Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah, has continued to persuade foreign airlines to operate into the international airports in the North in the interest of the growth of the Nigerian economy. It is hoped that sooner rather than later, her action would yield the desired results," he said.
Obi further said that the remodelling of the airports by the federal government covers all the 22 federally-owned airports.
He said the remodelling project had been completed in some of the airports, while work was at an advanced stage in others.
"We do not count how many airports we are remodelling in any one geo-political zone. The federal government is remodelling all 22 federally-owned airports across the country. We took 11 in the first phase and the remaining 11 in the second phase. Work has been completed in some - MAKIA, Kano, Yola, Jos, Ilorin and Kaduna - and is at an advanced stage in others," he said.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) also gave a breakdown of the level of work at airports in the North that are part of the remodelling scheme by the aviation ministry.
According to data made available to LEADERSHIP Weekend by FAAN's spokesman, Yakubu Dati, MAKIA has been commissioned; Kaduna is at 70 per cent completion level, hajj terminal commissioned; Abuja GAT, commissioned, and Jos is at 70 per cent completion level. Yola is completed; Sokoto at 60 per cent completion level; Maiduguri, 50 per cent; Katsina 50 per cent; Ilorin, 70 per cent, and Minna at 60 per cent completion level.
At the Yakubu Gowon Airport in Jos, Plateau State, the airport manager, Mr. Jim Opotu disclosed that the airport records one flight daily.
He however said that organisations such as the Central Bank of Nigeria and some dignitaries operate chartered flights from the airport.
Oputu told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the remodelling of Yakubu Gowon Airport has reached 90 per cent completion, but FAAN put it at 70 per cent. On security, he said that there were enough security personnel, including the police, State Security Services (SSS) and Air Force personnel stationed at strategic locations to ensure the safety of life and property at the airport.
He said the airport had not been upgraded to international status and so there were no international flights to it.
The regional manager, North Central of FAAN, Mr Chris Bature, said he had directed the airports to erect watchtowers on their runways, to ensure the safety of passengers.
Bature said he held a regional meeting of airport mangers in Jos, where it was agreed that the towers would check terrorism and ensure the safety of air passengers.
In Katsina, the facilities at the Umaru Musa Yar'Adua International Airport have been adjudged to have met international standards.
The airport, which was constructed during the administration of the late President Yar'Adua when he was the governor of the state, has relatively new facilities in place.
The perimeter fencing is protected with barbed wire, even as stern-looking security personnel were seen by our correspondent around the airport.
Although LEADERSHIP Weekend was denied access to runways and control towers, a member of staff of the National Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) said the two critical facilities were in order.
Our correspondent observed that the chairs in both the arrival and departure lounges of the airport are iron. There is no television set in the arrival hall, while a 14-inch television is mounted in the departure hall.
An official of FAAN admitted that the airport was poorly patronised, disclosing that the airport had recorded only nine flights from January till date, most of which came during the just-concluded airlift of pilgrims. "We get chartered flights, but they are not regular," he added.
The situation was no different at the Jalingo Airport, where some of the facilities are in place and others under construction.
The manager of the state-owned airport, Mr Dauda Namiji, said the airport was the initiative of former governor of Taraba State, Rev. Jolly Nyame in 1996, during his second term in office, and was continued by the incumbent Danbaba Suntai administration.
The 3.5-kilometre runways are still under construction. Dauda said that the control towers meet international standards, adding that the civil aviation authorities had rated them as among the best in Nigeria.
He said the security challenges in the country do not affect the airport. According to him, the state police command assists quasi security personnel at the airport to maintain law and order.
The Yola International Airport in Adamawa State, which was among the first airports in Nigeria, now wears a new look, as the federal government has given it a facelift.
A source at the airport told LEADERSHIP Sunday that virtually all safety and security facilities are in place at the airport.
The source said that although it had been upgraded to an international airport, it does not record international flights, as most travellers go to Lagos and Abuja airports to make their foreign trips.
The remodelling of Malam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) has been completed, but LEADERSHIP Sunday learnt that despite the billions of naira spent on it, the 05 runaway has no night landing facilities, while the 06 runaway has developed a fault.
The passenger lounge has no conveyor belts, electronic check-in counters, furniture or central air-conditioning. Passengers wait for between three and four hours after disembarking from a flight to get their luggage.
No official of the airport was willing to speak on the matter, but the president of the Kano Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Umar Rabiu Dansuleka, said that the situation at MAKIA was "a source of concern, as the airport is not suitable for airliners, because of the absence of almost all the required facilities, despite the billions earmarked for its remodelling."
FAAN manager in Maiduguri, Alhaji Mohammed Nazib Saidu, said, "We are at present undertaking comprehensive renovation. That is, remodelling of the airport generally, particularly in the main terminal building, to meet international standards."
He explained that the remodelling exercise had forced FAAN to relocate all domestic operations from the main terminal to the hajj terminal building, which has been renovated.
"In terms of perimeter fencing, Maiduguri International Airport is the best in the country, because I should think the new one is at about 16 kilometres and the old one is at 25 kilometres. And the runway is at 05 to 23. We are even better than Abuja and Lagos in terms of perimeter fencing. It is only Kano that has double fences," Saidu said.
The major problem of the airport is electricity supply, which has compelled FAAN management to acquire a dedicated light/dedicated line from PHCN. FAAN pays N400, 000 monthly to PHCN, but still experiences epileptic power supply.
At the Sultan Abubakar 111 International Airport, Sokoto, FAAN disclosed that the remodelling of the airport has reached 90 per cent. A senior FAAN official said, "As you can see, the remodelling project is almost completed. All that is needed is electricity to power the equipment."
Reporters: Nkem Osuagwu, Achor Abimaje, Muazu Elazeh, Andrew Ojih, Mohammed Ismail, Abubakar Salihi, Sadiq Abubakar, Ankeli Emmanuel