By Chinelo Obogo
For decades, the prospect of having an international airport in Anambra state continued to elude its citizens despite their huge commercial enterprises cities like Onitsha, Awka and Nnewi, noted for automobile and other industrial manufactures.
The first attempt by the state government was geared towards building an airport at Oba but that plan didn’t work out as expected. However, after many years, three communities, namely Nteje in Oyi Local Government, Umueri and Nsugbe in Anambra East Local Government eventually gave portions of their land to the state government for an international airport which which would include access roads. The location of the airport itself is in Umeri and Daily Sun gathered that the State Government compensated the communities affected by the development and promised to ensure that they would also get more job slots when recruitment commences. After about 1500 acres of land was secured for the construction of the airport, Governor Willie Obiano then approved the investment of N5 billion for the development of a new four-lane road to the airport.
On April 30, 2021, the state government carried out a test run of the airport facilities, a standard practice in aviation and Daily Sun was there to witness the occasion. Three aircraft, a Boeing 737 and an Embraer 145 in the fleet of Air Peace and a smaller plane belonging to Sir Ernest Obiejesi landed at the airport which already boasts of all the basics of an airfield; a completed 3.7km runway, an apron, a control tower and an almost completed terminal building.
It will take a motorist about 15 to 20 minutes to get to Onitsha city from the airport through Umunya Community, around the same time it takes to get to the commercial city from Asaba airport if the traffic gridlock which usually occurs on the Niger Bridge is taken into consideration. It would also take a motorist about 25 minutes or less to get to Awka, the state capital.
The airport has a jet fuel dump, space for the establishment of an aircraft maintenance facility, airport hotel and international convention center.
Though the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said the airport is still undergoing the necessary tests before approval, the state government said it had already got a license from the Federal Government for an international airport which will start with local operations, a regional operation with international flights coming up later.
The Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, who flew in two of the airline’s aircraft for the test running, said the runway can land a Boeing 777 and an Airbus 380 which are the biggest planes applauded the quality of the work done.
“This is the fastest airport to be approved by the Federal Government for a test flight and it is a testament of the quality of job done here. This runway can land a Boeing 777 and an Airbus 380 which are the biggest planes. This is the first time an airport in Nigeria will be doing a test run with a Boeing 737. Test runs are usually done with smaller planes which is why we decided to bring a small plane and a big one to show the quality of job the government has done.
“This airport is not going to serve only Anambra people, it would serve the entire South East and the country at large. I said four months ago that President Muhammadu Buhari will approve this airport as an international and cargo airport. One thing that is certain is that the airport will generate millions of jobs for our people. Forget where the airport is sited; we have nothing against it because there is plenty of land which helped to ensure that a 3.7 kilometer runway is built,” Onyema said.
How airport’ll impact commercial activities
Opinions are divided on whether an international airport is necessary for the state considering that it is surrounded by two local airports in Asaba and Owerri and one international/local airport in Enugu. A businessman and engineer, Mr. Ndubuisi Ojiakor, who owns shops at Warri, Delta State, told Daily Sun that anytime international operations eventually commence, entrepreneurs like him who import goods from Asia would save a lot of money and time if they can fly their goods straight into the state, rather than having to go through the rigours of travelling to Lagos and paying demurrage.
“The new airport is a welcome development because it will save entrepreneurs like us the stress of travelling to Lagos and paying high demurrage on goods, since it is closer to the direct consumers. Anytime the FG officially allows for international operations, most businessmen like us will rather bring in our goods from abroad straight to Anambra, take them to our villages and carry them to our shops bit by bit without paying outrageous bills to agents in Lagos all in the name of using the facilities beyond the expected time/overtime.
“If more international cargo flights can come through Asia, especially China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand and most African countries too, inflation of price goods and services will be a thing of the past. Transportation, haulage of goods and logistics over longer distances are some factors that leads to increase in the prices of goods and services.
“Instead of spending about seven to eight hours to Lagos from Warri and about 45 minutes’ drive to Murtala Muhammed Airport from Ojota, I will spend only three hours to Onitsha and from Onitsha to Umueri is just about 20 minutes’ drive without traffic. Instead of spending about N10, 000 for hotel accommodation in Lagos for a night, I would rather go to my village in Ojoto which is about 20 minutes’ drive from Umueri and sleep comfortably without paying a dime. These are some of the advantages in having an international airport in the state,” Ojiakor said.
A member of the House of Representatives from the state, Chuma Nzeribe, said one of the challenges the government would have is making the airport accessible to passenger and cargo traffic from different parts of the country. He suggested that ways this can be achieved would be through the proposed Anambra super highway, which if implemented will make it easy for those coming from 9th Mile, Enugu and Kogi states.
“One of the challenges the state government would have is making the airport accessible to passenger and cargo traffic from different parts of the country. One of the ways this can be achieved is if the proposed Anambra super highway which if carried out will make it easy for those coming from 9th Mile, Enugu and Kogi states. If the Otuocha-Ibaji-Ajaokuta federal road which is under construction is completed, it would also increase patronage to the airport,” Nzeribe said.
Completion of different aspects of the airport
The Commissioner for Works, Mr. Marcel Ifejiofor, told aviation reporters that work done in the airport has reached 90 percent completion. He said: “The runway, apron and the taxi way are 100 percent completed. The terminal is 90 percent completed. The good thing about what we are doing here is that all the equipment have been paid for. The lights, the aero bridges, the security, the Instrument Landing Systems and the VOR have all been paid for. By the next two months, everything should have been completed and we would commission the airport. For landscaping, the contract has been awarded and it is not a show stopper. Our budget is on a yearly basis.
“The governor of Anambra State had created a community. An airport is a community both socially and economically. The vision is unprecedented and he has taken Anambra state to another level both economically and socially. At the construction stage, we employed about 2,500 workers and we have the suppliers. In a day, our suppliers bring in about 72 trucks, 30 tons of chippings. People are supplying these things and the equipment we are using here are many. Diesel, cement and sand are supplied. The food vendors are also benefiting. The employment opportunities are unprecedented. When the terminal is completed, it won’t take anything less than 100 workers. Employment opportunities cuts across aviation security, fire control workers, shops etc.
“The license we have from Ministry of Aviation is for Anambra International Cargo airport. Our runway is 3.7km, the apron is 300 by 200meters and it can take eight Boeing 727s. The critical aircraft for this place is Boeing 727. We have a strip of 140 meters on the other side of the runway. We have three access roads; one that is under contract and is being worked on, another one comes from Onitsha road but we have the major entrance that leads to the express.
“Our projected passenger traffic is 1,200 daily passengers because the terminal is designed for 400 passengers at a time. In other countries, there are airports in every city. The easiest and safest means of transportation is by air. So, it doesn’t matter if there are airports in neighboring states.
“As we speak we are doing a tank farm with a capacity if two million, one hundred liters of aviation fuel and it is a private sector arrangement which is 80 percent completed. We have a control tower in Nigeria and it is done on concrete. The staircase is fireproof. We call it the safe heaven. Once there is fire in that building and we enter the staircase and close it, the fire would not get in. It also has a self-fire-fighting equipment. Every room and office has a sprinkler. Beside it, we have a fire house which takes 12,500 liters each and they are three. So the category if fire we have here is category 9, which is the biggest. The runway can take A380, it can take airbus.
“The contract to train the technical personnel has been awarded to East wing. This includes general training, aviation safety and security. The governor visits this site at least once a week and we have been here for one year and three months and no contractor is owed here. Once contractors submit their certificates, he pays. He has not borrowed any money to construct this airport. Already, airlines and other service providers are showing interest to come to this airport. So many people want to do hangar here. Air Peace has indicated interest to set up a Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) and an aviation school is coming here to set up a training school. Before December 2021, commercial schedule operations would have commenced at this airport.”
State government says no money was borrowed for airport
Obiano while speaking at the event, said it is difficult to create a new economic corridor without a functional international airport that will serve as a direct bridge between the state and the world. Though he didn’t say how much has been spent on the airport so far, he revealed that the state didn’t borrow money for the project.
“The Anambra International Airport is the most audacious legacy of my administration and perhaps the most revolutionary too. Experts tell me that our airport has set a record in the aviation industry as the fastest and most modern airport to be built in recent times. This airport took 15 months to build. Construction work began in January 2020 and here we are; 15 months after, witnessing the first flight into the airport.
“The most interesting thing about this airport, for me, is that the Anambra State Government did not borrow a kobo to build it. Our dream for our own airport began almost 30 years ago when the Government of Anambra State acquired 530 hectares of land in Oba, Idemili South Local Government Area with the intention of building a domestic airport. The idea came up again in 2006 when Orient Petroleum dreamt of building an airport here in Umueri.
“Seven years ago, we announced that our vision was to make the state the first choice investment destination and hub of industralisation and commercial activities. We also declared that our Mission was to create a socially stable, business friendly environment that will attract both indigenes and foreigners to wealth creating opportunities in the state.
It is difficult to create a new economic corridor without a functional international airport that will serve as a direct bridge between us and the world. With this facility, we have made the journey easier for any investor who wants to prospect Anambra State for business,” Obiano said.