Ranked as the fifth busiest airport in Africa, with an average of 7.5 million-passenger traffic achieved in 2014, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), strategically located in Lagos, Nigeria’s most vibrant and commercial city, has all it takes to create an air transportation hub for Nigeria.
Indeed, at no opportune time does the country need an air transport hub, than now when earnings from crude oil had bottomed out forcing the country into an economic recession.
Nigeria has the population (over 170 million) and majority of its citizens like to travel for commerce, education and vacation purposes. In fact, there are millions of Nigerians scattered all over the world (so much that it is believed that one out of five blacks found in any European or American city is a Nigerian), and the MMIA over the years has continued to serve as the major entry and exit hub for these passengers.
Role of government
Sadly, over the years, the Federal Government has not been able to make the right investments to unlock the full potentials of the MMIA that could get it listed among the world’s best and beggest international airports. It is the same story with the other international airports located in Enugu, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt.
Nigeria is losing billions of dollars annually not being able to tap into the potentials in its aviation sector. Not even the recent investments in the remodeling and rehabilitation of these airports estimated at $2.2 billion is considered to be sufficient to effectively harness their potentials for national prosperity. Nigeria’s aviation sector contributes only 0.4 per cent to national GDP but it could contribute more, about 13 per cent, if the right thing is done. And an airport hub remains pivotal in any effort to grow the aviation sector’s contribution to national GDP.
A 2015 data by Airport Council International showed 10 of the top airport hubs carrying over half a billion passengers. The first being the hart field Jackson Atlanta International Airport, USA with 101.4 million passengers.
Benjing Capital International Airport, China comes second with 89.9 million passengers; Dubai International, UAE ranks third with 78.014 million passengers; while the Chicago O’Hare International Airport is fourth with 76.9 million pasengers.
What most of these airports have in common is that they are hubs, offering a high number of routes and moving people internationally rather than necessarily being the final destination.
Another common feature of these airports is that their growth or prosperity is tied to the existence of a vibrant national or flag carrier. The Hartfield Jackson Airport in Atlanta is driven largely by Delta Airline; just as London Heathrow is propelled by British Airways, and United Airlines has its headquarters in Houston, Texas, USA, which is served by O’Hare International Airport; KLM built a hub in Schipol; while Air France built Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France.
Mr. Chris Aligbe, an aviation expert, said although the Lagos airport is strategically positioned, the absence of a strong national carrier has marred efforts to get natural airport hubs in the country.
Said Aligbe: “Nigeria is the best location in Africa to build a hub, yet we have not developed it. We cannot develop hubs in our country. Globally, private airlines have developed airports as hub in two countries.
“So, airlines have a role to play in developing air transport hubs. Nigeria can become a hub if it has two or three airlines that are very strong, even if one is not strong enough, but one that can feed the whole of Africa. People coming from America transiting through Lagos then can go to Accra, they go to Niger Republic, they go to South Africa; they go to Cairo; they go everywhere in the continent.
So, aside the ongoing remodeling and rehabilitation of the airports, the Federal Government needs to work harder to float a national or flag carrier. It is a good thing a committee has been inaugurated to work out modalities for a national carrier.
The Executive Chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Captain Nogie Meggison, who corroborated Aligbe’s views said airlines have a huge role to play in developing air transport hubs.
He cited the roles Ethiopian Airlines has played in making Addis Ababa a strong hub in the Horn of Africa region distributing passengers from all parts of the continent into its global routes network using its many global alliances.
Egypt Air, he said, has developed a hub around Cairo just as South African Airways has also developed a hub for Johannesburg to distribute passengers around the southern part of the continent.
He said: “But a country needs more than the advantage of geographical location before it can become a hub. Now, if you take advantages into account, Nigeria ought to be a hub but then, what really determines a hub is the quality and the capacity of a major carrier in that particular country.
“It is not the population; it is not even the strategic location as it were. KLM is from Netherlands. How many people are in Netherlands? How many of the KLM passengers are going to Netherlands? But because the country has a very big carrier that has wide network, the airline has made Amsterdam a hub.”
Having an airport hub in Lagos or any other city with a vibrant national or flag carrier would mean more flight traffic coming into the airport from other countries.
The economy also benefits because any thriving airport is a source of GDP in itself. The more passengers or freight move through the airport, the more the airport makes money.
A 2013 study found out that half of Fortune 500 companies were headquartered within 10 miles of a hub airport. Probably the world’s most notable hub, Dubai International Airport, home to Emirates Airline, experienced a 6.1 per cent growth in passengers traffic in 2014, raising its international passenger manifest to around 33 times its national population. The success story of Dubai Airport offers Nigeria enough hope and lessons to learn.
Dubai International Airport is an important contributor to the Dubai economy, employing approximately 90,000 people, indirectly supports over 400,000 jobs and contributes over $26.7 billion to the economy, which represents around 27 per cent of Dubai’s GDP and 21 per cent of the employment in Dubai.
It is predicted that by 2020, the economic contribution of Dubai’s aviation sector will rise to 37.5 per cent of the city’s GDP and by 2030, the economic impact of aviation is projected to grow to $88.1 billion and will support 1.95 million jobs in Dubai or 44.7 per cent of the GDP and 35.1 per cent of the total employment.
From Magnus Eze, Abuja
THE Federal Government has extended invitation to private investors to invest in the production of aviation fuel in the country.
Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, who made the invitation in a keynote address at this year’s African Aviation Day in Abuja, disclosed that arrangements have reached an advanced stage to commence the production of Aviation Fuel (jet A1) in the country in order to bring down the cost, ensure regularize supply and also for export.
This is as he appealed to countries participating in the forum to support Nigeria in its bid to retain Part 2 status in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) council.
Represented by the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Sabiu Zakari, the minister decried the high cost of aircraft maintenance and shortage of management manpower, but pointed out that government is in the process of establishing a major Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) through Public Private Partnership to allow for an A to D checks of most aircraft type.