Unlike its peers in developed and even developing economies, FAAN has turned deaf ears to calls and proposals for a monorail to link the three terminals
Homecoming for passengers arriving the international terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, from abroad ought to be a pleasurable experience especially during Christmas.
But that was not so this yuletide season; as hundreds of passengers seeking to transit between MMIA and the local terminals – the Murtala Muhammed Airport Two (MMA2) and the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) – were instead subjected to harrowing experiences. With majority of such passengers stuck in the traffic and having very few minutes to catch their connecting flights, many had no alternative than to transit on commercial motorcycles (popularly called Okada), for fares ranging between $20 and $50 per passenger.
The crisis created by the usual gridlock on the airport roads especially at peak hours saw many vehicles squeezing through the two-lane road linking the Lagos international to the domestic airports rendering what ought to be a seamless connection between the two terminals difficult, if not impossible.
It was a also crisis not helped by the closure of a greater part of the expressway linking the Lagos International Airport to Oshodi and Apapa Expressway by contractors handling the construction of that project for the Lagos State government. Unlike its peers in developed and even developing economies, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has turned deaf ears to calls and proposals for a monorail to link the three terminals. Those who are in the know told Daily Sun that the regulator who nets over N40million from toll collections believes that building a monorail to link the terminal and save the traveling public and other road users the stress would rob it of the revenue from its tollgate. This is however contrary to the practice in most airports outside the country where service to and comfort of customers drive airport infrastructure provision.
The effect of absence of mono rail linking domestic and international wing of the Lagos airport has seen several passengers trapped (in both commercial and private vehicles) for hours along that corridor. Without a doubt, an airport is a mirror that reflects the picture of the happenings within a country. A first time visitor to a country builds a perception of the country from experiences gained upon stepping into and outside of the country’s airport terminal.
For the Lagos International Airport, it was a shameful sight to behold passengers who had flown several hours to their country and other nationals leaving for Christmas having to ride commercial motorcycles to the local and international wings of the airports to fly back to catch their flights during the peak travelling periods of December 20-30, 2018.
Spokesman for the Aviation Round Table (ART), Mr. Olu Ohunayo, told Daily Sun that while passengers who had very few hours to catch connecting flights at either the local or international terminals lamented missing their flights as a result of the gridlock created during peak travelling hours along the airport link roads, commercial motorcyclists found business opportunities in the ensuing chaos to make brisk business.
Said Ohunayo: “I was a victim; the traffic in the last two weeks messed up a lot of passengers. It was a very shameful sight, a terrible experience for passengers to go through carrying their luggage on their head and transiting on commercial motorcycles between the international and local airport terminals.
“It’s a wrong depiction of Nigeria, especially to foreigners who also have to go through the same experience whenever there is this terrible traffic. And I bet that the hub status we are looking forward to creating at the Lagos International Airport cannot be achieved with this lack of organisation where we can’t transit passengers smoothly between the international and local terminals,” he added.
Passengers recount ordeals
Agnes Ukwak, a female passenger who flew in from the United States of America (USA) and had a connecting flight to Port Harcourt told Daily Sun at the MMA2 terminal that she missed her evening flight trapped in traffic along the Lagos airport link road.
“I was stuck for more than two hours and before I could get to MMA2, my flight had left,” she said. “It was a flight I had already booked and paid for; I had to pay extra money for not appearing as scheduled and I also had to pay the chartered taxi to take me to a hotel to lodge overnight and return the next day to catch another flight. I ended up spending about N20,000 extra which was never planned for all because of the failure of someone to do his or her job,” she lamented.
Daily Sun also met another passenger named as Magnus who said once he saw himself stuck in traffic for more than 30 minutes at the Nigerian Air Force base end of the road linking the two terminals, he had to disembark from the taxi taking him to the airport to pick a commercial cycle to GAT where he had an Air Peace light to catch to Abuja.
Magnus had arrived the GAT panting and hurrying the check-in counter officials to issue him a boarding pass so he doesn’t miss his flight.
“I had just 45 minutes left for my flight to take off and I paid two Okadas (commercial cyclists) N2,000 each to move me to this terminal,” he said.
“It’s not a pleasant experience at all. I have travelled through airports across the world, but nowhere have I encountered this sort of experience,” he added.
But another passenger Mrs Theresa Ebogu, a pharmacists based in Georgia, USA, who tried to transit between the domestic and international terminals on one of those chaotic traffic days said she missed her Delta Air Lines flight.
“I spent over $300 rescheduling my flight for the next day in addition to accommodation and feeding for the night before I could fly the next day. It was my worst travel experience,” she added.
But it was not just about the passengers; travel agents and airlines also went through very tough time managing passengers who became very unruly once they escape through the traffic and arrive the airline counters to find out that the gate had been closed.
A travel agent who wouldn’t want to be named said, “the industry passed through hell trying to settle amicably disputes between passengers and airlines as a result of the congestion along the Lagos airport road made many passengers to miss thier flights this past two weeks in Lagos.
“The beneficiaries are FAAN and I am sorry to say, the military and para-military men too. These paramilitary men are the ones who also make brisk business carrying passengers on Okada between the two airport terminals because we all know that commercial cyclists are outlawed in the airport and its only this privileged class that can ply that route,” the source added.
Daily Sun learnt that on a typical day that the traffic chaos rears its ugly head, some commercial motorcyclists could rake in about N15-N30,000 moving passengers between both airport terminals.
Although there is no available data to show what passengers and airlines lose during such periods, this could certainly run into millions of naira.
The way forward
Olayinka Abioye, former secretary general of the Nigerian Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), in an interview with Daily Sun, said the blame for the crisis should be placed at the doorstep of FAAN, the agency managing the Lagos airport on behalf of the Federal Government.
Abioye alleged that it would be to the detriment of FAAN to work out alternatives like a light rail that links the two Lagos airport terminals together to ease passengers’ movement because of what it stands to lose financially once such passengers cease to pass through its toll gate erected between the two terminals.
“Economically, it pays FAAN which rakes in about N40 million monthly from the use of toll plaza for unauthorised vehicles who have to pay before they are allowed access to the airport,” said Abioye.
“The original concept was not to commercialise the road but over time and arising from the congestion on Agege/Oshodi Road, vehicular movement through the airport axis exacerbated so much that FAAN seized the opportunity and began gate-taking and making huge revenue,” Abioye said.
Abioye explained that the expansion of the Lagos Airport Road is no longer feasible except there is another diversion created elsewhere from the local to the international airport.
He, however, disclosed that former President Olusegun Obasajo had made provisions for the construction of a rail network linking the two terminals in the concession signed with Bi-Courtney Aviation Service Limited (BASL) for the concession of the MMA2 terminal. He, however, regreted that that deal was subsequently jettisoned.
Said Abioye: “I can offer insight into issues connected with air transportation and aviation in particular in Nigeria and I can tell you that I am aware that one of the unresolved and little known resolutions of the President Obasanjo regime was that Babalakin’s Bi-Courtney would be granted provisional approval to construct a rail line between the domestic airport and the international terminal.
“What happened thereafter can only be imagined. It is do-able, if we focus on it essentially as a means of cutting down on delays encountered by returning travellers and outbound ones. The Lagos airport needs a rail connecting passengers between the local and international terminals. It’s the trend globally,” Abioye added.