By Chinelo Obogo
Aviation experts from different parts of the country converged on Lagos recently to attend the 26th annual aviation conference hosted by the League of Airport and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC), which had the theme: “Sunset Airports: Safety and Economic Implications”.
The Group Managing Director of Finchglow Holdings, Mr. Bankole Bernard, was the chairman of the occasion and among the participants were the regulators, service providers, operators, ground handling companies, aviation enthusiasts, and members of the public.
The participants acknowledged challenges facing the global and local economies. They pointed at the cascading effects on the local aviation industry, as currently felt in airport infrastructure, airlines’ operations, hard-on effects on the travelling public and a bleak future for the sector.
Specifically, they decried foreign exchange liquidity crisis and its effects on the dollar-denominated aviation sector, attendant rising costs of fuel and operations, and one-too-many limiting factors of both airports’ and aircraft utilisation.
Sunset airports: The experts observed that the notion of ‘Sunset Airports’ or limited (daylight) hours of operations is a self-limiting factor that is retrogressive and a challenge that should be addressed by a modern state. The phenomenon is a major disrupter of the economies of airline operation and utilisation of aircraft assets. The self-imposed limitation was identified as one of the main banes of gross under-utilisation of aircraft, estimated to cost each airplane three hours of operation daily and at least N4.3billion worth of unearned revenue yearly (per equipment).
The untapped revenue gets bigger in an airline that has five or more aircraft and the reason local airlines battle survivability unlike their counterparts in Europe, North America and Asia.
Stakeholders at the conference noted that the sunset airports actually have navigational aids, Instrument Landing Systems (ILSs), airfield lightings and so on to safely operate round the clock. They noted that there are other variables that define the operating hours of an airport, which include the passenger traffic demand and the cost of operations.
Regulators and service providers were unanimous that there are several airports that do not have daily flights. Therefore, it is uneconomical to keep them running without traffic demand, despite high cost of energy, inadequate technical workforce and lack of support services to transport travelers beyond the airport at night. They, however, noted that extended operating hours are available at most airports, especially for airlines that are willing to pay for the extra service.
They also agreed on the imperative of maximum usage of airport facilities through deliberate triggers to draw traffic both to the airports and the operating airlines. Of consideration was the need to develop non-aeronautical sources of revenue around the facilities. Also, the intentionality of policy re-direction for the sector to harmonise aviation financing with its safety and security elements. In turn, it will deepen collaboration between the regulator, service providers and operators, and enhance growth.
Many of the experts who spoke, agreed that more than ever before, the industry urgently needs a clearer vision and bold leadership that will think outside the box to rescue it from impending implosion. They also called for better collaboration among policymakers, regulators, service providers and operators, to workout viable and sustainable aviation development programmes that properly incorporate aviation financing with its safety and security elements.