Nigeria may have lost the status as a cargo hub in the West African sub-region due to lack of proper planning, inadequate apron facility, alleged multiple taxes and lack of support from the airport Authority.
This has become a cause of worry for the President, Association of Foreign Airlines and Representatives of Nigeria (AFARN), Mr. Kingsley Nwokoma, who said despite many calls on the concerned authorities to address these problems, the calls had fell on deaf ears leading to loss of revenue for investors and the government.
Speaking with journalists at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Mr Nwokoma said many cargo airlines now divert their aircraft to places like Ghana because it had become expensive doing business in Nigeria, adding that over the years AFARN had muted the idea of projects like the cargo village or cargo terminal to boost the cargo flow into and out of the country.
“Ease of Doing Business should be revisited, How easy is “Ease of Doing Business”, if the airlines and stakeholders are complaining? It simply means there is a problem. Nigeria is very expensive. The cost of doing business is high comparatively to other African countries. Every businessman will want to go where the cost is comparatively good. These are things the government should look into. FAAN, Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should look at this because the more the merrier. If you are too expensive, if airlines are complaining of coming in here, if they are paying so much on landing, parking and other multiple charges, it is discouraging. So it is something we have to look at, so as to move the industry forward and also make it competitive”
He therefore, appealed to President Mohammadu Buhari, to consider expanding the airports’ tarmac and increase the parking bays at the different airports to facilitate free flow of cargoes without hitches.
According to him, at the MMIA, due to inadequate space, cargo aircraft are often moved to the passenger tarmac because the cargo apron cannot accommodate more than two aircraft depending on the aircraft type, leading to disruption in aircraft network punctuality.
“Once two aircraft are parked in that tarmac, we don’t have space for additional aircraft to park. So what is usually done is for them to ask the aircraft to go to the passenger terminal which is also time consuming and also causes more fuel consumption. Network punctuality is also disrupted. Because if I have an aircraft coming to Lagos and it is supposed to be in Accra or Nairobi at a particular time, and it moves from one place to the other, there is always a time wastage”.
He noted that incidents are recorded at the apron as aircraft wings sometimes collide in an attempt to park.
“The expansion of the apron is very vital. We implore the government to look into that. We have had some incidents due to parking in the apron in the past and we all know how expensive it is when there is even a little scratch on the aircraft. In order to avoid all these, we should look at how to put them in the budget”
Explaining the challenges the industry had been facing over the years, Nwokoma said, “We the AFARN has a lot of projects like the cargo village or cargo terminal. We have talked about that over the years and we hope that that, within this 4 years of President Buhari, such projects will be included in whatever project that they have in mind. When the tarmac and parking bays were built, we were not futuristic because we could have looked at a 10-20-year plan. But in the 60s, when this was built, it was just built with parking bays, to just contain averagely 4 to 5 aircraft, depending on the type of aircraft but now things have changed. Those days you have the 707s and the 727s, and those are small-body aircraft, but generational change has brought in aircraft like 747s, Dash 800; we have the 777 cargo aircraft and all that”.
Nwokoma said, there had been assurances from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to improve the system, but unfortunately, the aviation agency had not been able to fulfil its promises.
“ We have had so many assurances from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) but we don’t see them walk that talk. I hope the government will take this very important. It is important in terms of safety and commercial considerations. They should look at it holistically, so that we can still be example we should be to aviation in this part of the divide”.
“We know we have lost the cargo hub to some other countries but we can always make mistakes and correct them and set the standards. I have always said it that we are a beautiful bride in terms of passenger and cargo because of our population. However, if the beautiful bride is not ready, other suitors are ready to elope with that bride. That is why we have the situation whereby most of our cargo that were supposed to come into this country, go to other countries. If am going to be bring my shipment and I know that the air cargo is fast, I should have those benefits”, Nwokoma said.
“The only reason why this place is called an airport is because airplanes comes here. The day these aircraft stops coming and perhaps, they have alternatives, it is no more an airport and of course all the revenue generated by Customs, FAAN, NAMA, and other authorities will cease and other climes would take over that. There are a lot to look into including lightning, Avio bridges and other stuffs. It is another 4 years for the government to take us to the next level that they promised. I hope the government will consolidate on what is on ground.
“The PH terminal commissioned recently is a plus and an additional Lagos terminal is also a plus. With all that, we can free all the space because if you look at the major international airports that we have, you can see it is choky, it is not properly run like a standard airport. But if you have all these terminals and that is why I was emphasizing on planning ahead. If 10 years ago, they had looked at the flying, and that population would explode, we would have planned for terminal1, 2, 3 like other countries do. We just hope the other terminals would be completed on time, so that we have travelers, passengers enjoying free smooth and having good travelling experiences”, he said.
According to him, there was also the need for stakeholders to key into the high-tech world as everyone was moving in that direction with speed as failure would make the industry lag behind.