By Dan Aibangbe
In the civilised world, air travel remains by far the most preferred means of transportation. It affords you comfort, speed, safety and all-round efficiency. However, for many years, until recently, the user experience in Nigeria’s aviation has been a far cry from the expected norms.
A number of factors combined to deny air travellers the joys of flying. Unpredictable schedules, extended and uncomfortable check-in, exorbitant pricing, decrepit aircraft, ticketing challenges and generally poor services appeared to be the norm. At some point, international airlines shunned the nation’s airspace for reasons of poor safety and infrastructural standards.
Today, air travellers can heave a sigh of relief, as a new era emerges in which there is a general transformation in infrastructure, services and, above all, user experience. Early this year, the government took a bold step to reconstruct the Abuja runway. This was completed on schedule with two days to spare. The feat was initially deemed impossible but has now become history. The feat also afforded an upgrade to the existing facilities as well as the general ambience of the Kaduna Airport.
Then came the executive order by the then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who mandated all MDAs to up their game and improve ease of doing business across Nigeria. It appears this was all that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had been waiting for to usher in a distinctive era of great user-experience in the Nigerian aviation industry.
Without any dint of contradiction, we have observed great improvement in passenger and luggage checking with the new centralised screening supported by automated digital screening machines, which replaced the need for manual passenger and luggage processing. The impact of this development is a drastic reduction in time spent and discomfort to passengers. The process has afforded the need for fewer security agencies to be directly involved, unlike in the past, where at least seven sets of cumbersome checks were carried out per diem. Apart from improving the ease of commuting for the ordinary traveller, the upgraded check-in technology, incidentally, translates to more trouble for wayward wayfarers such as drug barons, drug couriers, smugglers and non-conformists who are sure to get more than they bargain for, especially with the precision with which the Astrophysics baggage scanner is reputed to operate and seamlessly detect hidden prohibited items such as narcotics and explosives.
Again, we have noticed a great improvement in the attitude of staff and personnel involved in passenger and luggage handling. This change in attitude, doubtless, results in very low level of corrupt practices, in contrast to past experience.
On the side of the security agencies, the new era of centralised processing has forced greater cooperation and compliance to standard operating procedures. Touting, which had been a major problem in all the airports across the country, with its attendant side effects of loss of revenue to official operators, inconveniences to travellers, fraud and potential security breaches, is now being tackled head-on.
This new era, no doubt, will go a long way in improving flight schedules, as fewer delays would only now be attributable to check-in challenges. Most of the bottlenecks have been removed and what had once seemed an elusive ease of doing business is fast becoming a reality. We can only hope this era will be sustained and possibly improved upon.
For airline operators, there is a need for cooperation, to develop local services in the area of maintenance, fuel availability and crew motivation. They will also do well to improve ticketing facilities and ensure compliance. We believe that with all these in place, the aviation industry will certainly experience a surge in patronage both of domestic and international flyers and cargo.
The government, on its part, must continue to place premium on profitable development of the aviation sector. The aviation industry must be seen as critical to the development of the tourism industry, which has the potential to be the most profitable economic sector. This is also critical to sustaining investor confidence in the economy towards attracting foreign direct investment on a sustainable basis.
In conclusion, efforts must not be spared in sustaining the current tempo in order to ensure a more efficient travel experience. Nigeria’s reputation for poor maintenance culture should not be allowed to fester here. As I have always insisted, there must be a new spirit of patriotism and national cohesion, which can only evolve through a deliberate and consistent set of efforts at rekindling nationalism and patriotic instincts in the Nigerian people. A recession period is the best time to make judicious investment in infrastructure development within which the aviation industry plays a key role as the gateway to national development.
This period in the chronicles of development in the Nigerian aviation industry is the appropriate time for the re-establishment of a national carrier on a public-private partnership model. We are expecting and calling on FAAN to mid-wife this project based on its rich experience and high-level manpower competence.
The benefits of a national carrier are too numerous and well known for us to dwell upon in this medium. Nigeria has the expertise, the facilities and the market to facilitate smooth delivery of this objective.
So, what are we waiting for?
• Aibangbe, a media consultant, wrote from Lagos.