Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned the Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA) terminal which is the first of four $600m Chinese-Nigeria funded terminals in the country. In this piece, ANTHONY AWUNOR looks at the upgrade and how the airport infrastructure would affect the nation’s transport sector economically.
Globally, airport management is always very challenging in terms of administration, turning it into a hub and ultimately, making it profitable for patronising airlines who fly into and out of the terminal. Lack of critical infrastructure; patronage and political factors are also some of the issues responsible for the under-utilisation of some of the airports, particularly in Nigeria. For these reasons, it has been very difficult for airport managers in the country as most of them are not viable in terms of positive and optimal contributions to the nation’s economy.Port Harcourt International Airport is one of the few airports that are viable in the country. In 2009, the airport served 1,081,587 passengers, making it the third-busiest airport in Nigeria. With the recent commissioning of the new International terminal by the President Buhari on October 25 2018, stakeholders are of the view that the new status would boost the handling capacity of the airport.
The position of stakeholders is that with a super infrastructure, there would be an increased patronage; more airlines would come and that will definitely boost passengers’ traffic. When the passenger traffic is high, it would also trickle down on the economic situation of the place where the airport is located and sometimes may turn it into an economic hub.
Including the Port Harcout Airport, only four out of the over 25 domestic and international airports in the country are viable, which amounts to a meagre 16 per cent of the total number of airports across the country.
The four airports considered to be viable airports are Murtala Mohammed International Airport, (MMIA) Lagos; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) Kano, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja and Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), Port Harcourt while others are not rated as viable airports.
Speaking at the commissioning, Buhari said government is making deliberate efforts to increase handling capacities and infrastructure of the nation’s transport sector which was not taken care of since the 70s and 80s when they were built.
Stating that it was part of his promises to upgrade Nigeria’s transport infrastructure in all geo political zones of the country, the president assured that the commissioning was a significant landmark for international travellers especially those in the South-South region.
Not much was done after these airports were built-in the 70s and 80s to increase handling capacity of the airports and so we need to take decisive steps to ensure that our terminals meet the minimum international global standards.”
The President said “In the 2017 budget, I promised to upgrade Nigeria’s transport and complete a number of projects that will be beneficial to the nation economically and these include construction of new terminals, railways and power projects”.
Following the large increase in the national population with a consequent surge in air passenger traffic, Buhari noted that the capacity of the airport terminals became woefully inadequate to cater for the increase in passenger traffic.
Although, palliative measures were periodically carried out, he pointed out that the facilities were fast giving-in to the effects of wear and tear. It, therefore, became necessary to take decisive action to ensure our terminals meet minimum international standards for the travelling public.
“The Federal Government responded to a global trend in which aviation became a catalyst for economic growth as a result of massive and speedy movement of persons, goods and services in a safe and secure manner. As part of the infrastructure renewal programme, the construction of four new international terminals at Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano airports was embarked upon by the Federal Government with a view to modernising the ageing airport infrastructure to meet global aviation standards and improved service delivery in tandem with best international practices”.
“At the presentation of the 2017 Budget to the National Assembly, I promised to upgrade and develop Nigeria’s transport, power and health infrastructure, and complete a number of stalled infrastructure projects. These include construction of new terminals at the country’s five major airports; numerous major road projects; key power transmission projects; and the completion of the Kaduna – Abuja as well as Itakpe to Warri Railway lines”
He said, that Nigeria having an advantageous central location within the sub-region and our desire to develop into a regional air transportation hub, must upgrade its facilities to take advantage of its assets, adding that the recent decision by the Federal Government to remove Value Added Tax from domestic air transportation is in line with global best practices.
Speaking earlier, Rivers state Governor, Nyesom Wike assured the president that the people of Rivers State and indeed the South-South are happy with the project stating that it would foster further investment in the state.
Governor Wike said”I can tell you this today that the people of Rivers State and the Niger Delta are happy with you Mr. President. This terminal here will help the drive of the state to grow the economy and it will attract investment to the state.
What has happened here shows that Rivers State is safe, Rivers State is secure and if it was not; CCECC will not have been here to construct this.”
Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika who also spoke at the commissioning, explained that when the project commenced in 2014, it was expected to be delivered in two years but when it was inherited in 2015 it was less than 30 percent due to the inherent challenges that accompanied it. But with commitment some of the challenges are rectified and Port Harcourt is the first among four international terminals.
“The project which commenced in 2014 is funded by China EXIM Bank for $500million and counterpart funding from Nigeria of $100million. The project was expected to be delivered in two years but was less than 30 percent when this government came in, lack of apron space, litigations, inadequate power supply were hindrances to the smooth sailing of the project.”
Before the recent commissioning of the PHIA, stakeholders have been worried over the physical structure of the airport, to the extent that the international airport was, at a time rated as one of the worst in the world.
Expressing his concerns, the former Airport Manager of Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), Engr C A Nwobu, had told LEADERSHIP that what makes airports viable are the critical infrastructures which, in turn makes operations very easy.
Nwobu said “I am sure you know that Port Harcourt International Airport is among the most viable airports in Nigeria. It can only be compared with Murtala Murhammed International Airport MMIA, Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, NAIA, Abuja. So I can authoritatively say that Port Harcourt International Airport is the third most viable airport in Nigeria.
“Virtually all the airlines come here. It is very viable for the federal government” he said. The airport manager said that airport operation is all about power, security, water and other basic infrastructure that you must need”.
Commending the federal government, secretary general of the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), Comrade Abdul Rasaq Saidu said the inauguration of the terminal is a right step in the right direction, adding that it will help boost traffic at the airport.
Comrade Saidu however, advised that doing the terminal is a good idea but more efforts should be targeted towards manpower development, security, the equipment used at the airport and other infrastructure.
He equally pointed out that, the mainstay of any airport, be it local or international is patronage, which determines how many airlines that make use of the airport.
“Building terminal is good but it is somehow cosmetic and political. The thing there is that it makes the airport beautiful and airport users would like it.
However, equipment used inside the airport is equally important. Workers training, security and technological innovations are very important so that the airport can operate with the International Civil Aviation Oganisation (ICAO) set standards”, Saidu said.
Located in Omagwa, a suburb of Port Harcourt, the capital city of the Rivers State, Port Harcourt International Airport is one of the most viable international airports in the country. The airport has two terminals for both international and domestic flights. The new International terminal was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari on October 25 2018.
The International Airport is approximately 28,000metre square and can facilitate 7million passengers annually with 24 check-in counters, 3 baggage collection carousels, 12immigration desks at arrival and 16 immigration desks at departure , four passenger boarding bridges plus remote boarding and arrival to mention a few of the facilities.