LIke other spheres of Nigeria's national life, the story of the aviation sector from the 1980s to 2011, had been characterised by systemic failure, as there was hardly any airport in the country that met acceptable international standards.
A true picture of the state of these airports before now, was painted by the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Odua, while lamenting the state of the Abuja airport terminal before remodelling, Oduah said: "It was not only that the old domestic terminal at this airport did not meet acceptable international standard, it was also not befitting of an airport in the country's capital city, which has been described as the fastest growing capital city in the world.
The airport also did not have general aviation and cargo terminals inspite of the fact that it had long become the second busiest airport in the country, after the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja. All these inadequacies have now been addressed, under the airport remodelling project."
She added that, "the situation was the same in other airports across the country, where facilities were either outdated or dilapidated. That ugly situation was not acceptable to Government and necessitated the extension of the transformation agenda of this administration to the aviation industry and the formulation of the aviation road map, by us."
It was hard for any body or organisation grounded on aviation matters, to give the sector kudos before now, because aviation had become prominent among the failed spheres in the country. However, four years down the road of renewal, even the ardent critics of the present administration, could testify to the ongoing transformation across the airports.
The Yuletide season provided a good opportunity to experience the goodness of the remodelled airports, as most passengers experienced pleasant surprises.
At the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, it was an interesting experience, following the opening of the new departure/screening points of the terminal on December 2, 2013. The newly extended Departure Hall features state of-the-art screening machines, 30 new immigration counters among others. Remarkably, the new screening machines have the ability to detect explosive materials and potential threat items real time with the lowest rate of false alarm.
Accordingly, the extended Departure at MMIA presently consists of 14 check-in counters, seven hand-luggage X-ray machines and eight walk-through body scanners at the E finger.
The facility is equipped with 11 toilet facilities for both male and female passengers, as well as disabled persons.
The new extension also came with commercial offerings, as the duty free shops would afford passengers the opportunity for last minute shopping, refreshments and other conveniences in line with global standards and recommended practices.
Pleasant experience: Against the backdrop of the new face of the airports, it was not surprising that some travellers, who spoke to VanguardFeatures,VF, at MMIA, expressed satisfaction with the new look of the airport and others across the country.
"This is awesome. It feels good seeing this. The last time I visited Nigeria in 2009, it was the same old relics that I saw. But whoever is responsible for this modernisation deserves kudos, because the structures then made it looked as if Nigeria was living in the past. The atmosphere is welcoming and exciting," a United States based Nigerian, Mr. Beneth Inegbedion, said.
"It is my hope that the government replicates this in other states. All airports in our country do not have any reason not to be modelled along what is obtainable in the 21st century. We deserve the best," he said.
Mr. Inegbedion can be forgiven as he remarked thus because he is not aware that under the present administration, the aviation sector and indeed airports across the country are wearing a new look with face lift in the different areas.
Another air traveller, Mr. Chino Ifeamasi, whom VF encountered at the MMIA, said, "One does not need to praise the government for doing what they are paid to do. However, this is Nigeria where people are praised for performing their statutory duties, so I will give them the credit for doing this. It is a good job. I am happy about it." For him, the upgraded facilities have made air travelling easy and pleasurable.
Mr. Ifeamasi spoke the mind of the Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah. "We want to be able to start the usage of all these facilities by first quarter of 2014. What is very key is that passengers travelling experience will be very, very different. It will be the way it should be; it means you have the comfort, you have the safety and you have the security and most importantly, as you've seen, we've increased the capacity which means you have ample space to really do what you are supposed to do, as a passenger," she said recently. It has not been all praises for the sector as it had come under serious criticisms. But what what are projects if they are not criticised. This was the position of Mr. Ifeamasi.
"I am aware some people are criticising the projects, the criticisms showed that the critics don't appreciate good things. The airport is among the national structures that tell the Nigerian story to any foreigner who just arrived the country. So leaving it in its obsolete state, would not have been in the best interest of this nation," Ifeamasi stated.
At the local terminal of the MMIA, it was same story, as travellers were seen beaming with smiles as they checked into the ultra modern departure hall.
Walter Nnaka, a Germany based Nigerian could not hide his feelings, when he exclaimed thus: "It is beautiful and exciting. I am impressed and fascinated. This is a departure from the old edifice that only offered bad sights. What I am seeing here is up to international standards because I travel round the world. Though the development is belated, the authorities have done well. But they should not just stop at remodelling, a mechanism for sustaining this gain, through periodic maintenance should be put in place."
Also speaking a Norwegian, Josef Stevens, who is regular visitor to Nigeria, told VF that he is impressed with what he had seen. "This is a good one for Nigeria and all the friends of the country. The improvement is beautiful in quality and class. I am aware Port Hacourt will also be like this when the job is done thoroughly. Sincerely I find the ambiance and the facilities exciting," he exclaimed.
VF went round the airport and observed work is ongoing at the top of the terminal airline lounges, transit lounges and other facilities. According to the General Manager, Corporate communication, Mr. Yakubu Dati, on top of the existing fingers were added another floor where departing passengers would pass through to avoid bridges in order not to mix with arriving passengers, a cardinal factor in the safety regulation of the International Civil Aviation Organsiation (ICAO).
Dati explained that the new additions will enable easy facilitation of passengers and establish the Lagos airport as a regional hub as passengers travelling to different parts of the West and Central Africa would stay at the transit lounges and wait for their flights; same with passengers coming from these destination and travelling to distant routes.
"The improvement in physical extension of the passenger handling area is by one and a-half times or 150 per cent more than its previous size. Three new hi-tech conveyor systems have also been installed in this new section since early this year. This has eased the experience of passengers who now enjoy faster processing of their luggage and personal effects.
"The new conveyor systems can process the luggage of 1,000 passengers per hour, passenger processing is now faster and the congestion has been eradicated in line with the Aviation Road map initiated by Minister of Aviation." Dati explained.