Inadequate counters to check-in passengers and other key infrastructure at airports especially at this time of the year is a cause of concern to airline operators.
Since the beginning of December with the upsurge in passenger traffic, airline operators have been complaining of a congested terminal due to inadequate space to check-in passengers and epileptic conveyor belts, adding that, they are being blamed for these problems which has led to many delays.
To this end, the operators as a body, that is Airline Operators of Nigeria, AON says, they have written to the concerned authority, that is the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN to take quick action in fixing these problems but to no avail.
One of the operators, Capt. Ibrahim Mshelia, Chairman Westlink Airline wondered why the authority has failed over the years to expand the facilities as the number of airlines kept increasing.
“Every operator writes to the authorities and tell them, we intend to begin operating at a particular time. The airport authority is supposed to acknowledge that including issuing base now I think over the years what we have done, we just keep taking in the airlines and we don’t do the infrastructure expansion”.
In assisting the authority for quick solution to the problems, Capt. Ibrahim Mshelia has suggested that in Abuja, FAAN should open up the old terminal building that is lying fallow.
“The quick fix is I know there are spaces in Abuja that are not being used, open it up to the domestic airlines like the old international airport terminal it is not being used properly so why don’t you open all of it that would solve the problems”.
“In Lagos another thing you can also do is (between these two airports, to be frank with you there is no problem with this daylight operations) you see Abuja bound traffic is checking in Warri bound traffic is checking in with others checking in this same Abuja and this same Lagos, so the quick fix is open up all the airport to midnight, if you do so, the airlines on their own will naturally adjust their schedules and give space, it would naturally mitigate this without doing anything to the current infrastructure. If you open the airport to close at midnight, you have solved a lot of the problems already and in Abuja open up the old international terminal that is not being used”.
Capt. Mshelia said, check-in counters are part of suitable accommodation to process passengers and thus a terminal building should be spacious enough to take the number of intending partners.
He lamented the current situation airlines are facing, congestion and chaos at the counters where about 3-4 airlines check-in passengers at the same time.
“You have congestion and then you have chaos and then you have commotion at the end. So passenger delay, sorting their baggage, access to the tarmac, move the bags, number of vehicles that can do it and so on. See there are so many things that are combined the infrastructure that we are talking about, there is infrastructure but the capacity of airlines have overwhelmed it and one wonders why all these years nothing was done to expand it until only recently that they are doing some expansion”.
“For example, Arik, Air Peace Ibom Air, Aero, Dana these five airlines’ alone, by the time they schedule 7 o’clock departure and all of them came schedule 7 O’ clock departure no doubt but how many of them do take in. Averagely let’s say the passengers on these aeroplanes will be between 120-170 depends on the aircraft, if you are going to do 120 by 5 airlines, they need to check them in( I’m just giving you a typical example) that would be 600 passengers, now that will take you quite some time to check in because of the space and infrastructural deficit, it takes up to five minutes to check in one passenger, it does. So, even if you say two minutes to check in a passenger, how many counters would you need to be able to check in those people within the two hour rate that they give? They give you two hours to check in passengers so you will need 300 check in counters if you’re going to use 2 minutes by passengers”.
On the conveyor belts, he said, the problem is systemic, poor maintenance and corruption, adding that, aviation requires experts but the experts are tossed aside and given to incompetent people.
“Everybody who is supposed to head an airline, aviation parastatal must be an expert so that we speak the same language”.
“Corruption is killing these equipment at the airports, lack of attention due to corruption because every machine being designed has its own servicing procedures and age, this is an airport we are talking about and everything is done for safety and timing. We should endeavour to do things properly and this problem will go away. Conveyor belts will not break down and if it does it’s once in a blue moon, it’s acceptable but the rate at which I hear conveyor belt breaking down and look at the obsolete things we have in the airport, why can’t we upgrade then when we should upgrade them? So it is still about our intention to do the right things or not”.
He added, ” Conveyor belt breaking down once in a year is acceptable. However, I do not see a reason why a conveyor belt will break down in the first place, or screening machines should break down in the first place. Which means the people who are manning it are either nonchalant or incompetent. Particularly, for me I am a pilot and I’ve visited a lot of countries inside the region and beyond, I’ve never heard of these equipment breaking down. I’ve never heard it anywhere except Nigeria because we do not allow our best hands to run our affairs. The thing is supposed to be serviced every two minutes for example, money is votes ( if you go to the books it’s voted) but if you go to the people managing the conveyor belt they’d tell you they have not serviced it in the last 20 years so where is the money going to?”