Of economic viability of airports and airstrips

Heated arguments ensued among Senators last Friday over necessity or otherwise of airports by state governments as Aviation committee settles for airstrips. TAIYE ODEWALE reports

Genesis of argument 

The argument that ensued among senators over necessity or otherwise of establishments of airports by state governments arose out of the submissions made by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Smart Adeyemi (APC Kogi West) on how most of  the airports established by state governments, turning out to be white Elephant projects.
Adeyemi who made the submission while presenting report on 2022 budget proposals of the agencies in the aviation sector to the Senate Committee on Appropriations, said airstrips and not airports, are what are needed by most of the states.
Statistically, according to him, aside the airport in Lagos which accounts for 65 % of passengers air traffic in the country in addition to the ones in Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano that account for substantial parts of the remaining 35%, other Airports across the states in the country, can by passengers air traffic, recorded on yearly basis, not be called airport.
500, 000 to One million passengers air traffic in a year he explained , is expected to be recorded by any functional and economically viable Airports which are not the case with the Airports in the country aside those of Lagos , Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano.
His words: “Most of the airports built by state governments lack the required facilities and passengers flow to be called airports.
“Aside Lagos which has 65 % of passengers traffic in addition to Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano, most of the other state airports lack the required 500,000 to 1million passenger traffic on yearly basis.
“Infact, many of them cannot even record 100,000 passengers annually not to talk of minimum of 500, 000 by international standard.
“Governors should stop embarking on the white elephant projects called state airport with attendant waste of resources that should be channeled into welfare and livelihood of citizens .
“N20 billion being spent by some state governors on construction of airports would have been better channeled into welfare – driven projects and programmes for people of the state”.

Airstrips as alternative 

In not wasting money on the unviable projects called airports across the states, many of which have been taken over by the Federal Government, the Aviation Committee, according to Senator Smart Adeyemi, has recommended for rehabilitation of eight Airstrips across the country 
Functional Airstrips according to him, are better operational in most of the states than airports of N20billion being established.
He, specifically, informed the committee that the  eight of the airstrips built about 40 to 50 years ago, have been proposed for rehabilitation in the 2022 fiscal year.
The eight airstrips, according to him, are Bida and Kotangora in Niger state, Mubi in Adamawa state, Zairia in Kaduna state, Uli – Okija in Anambra state, Ajaokuta in Kogi state, Irua in Edo state and Zuru in Kebbi state.
It takes one to two billion naira to contract a functional airstrip where small aircrafts like 50 – seaters can land.
“In many nations of the world, whether an airport is having a terminal of N10bn or N20bn does not matter. What matters is that it must have a good landing facility which a functional Airstrip can provide.
“We don’t need a Boeing series that would be looking for 100 passengers to take off before it move. If we have a 50-seater aircraft, it could land and pick 30 passengers at no loss. But if if you are waiting for a Boeing series before you construct airport, you are not helping the Nigerian nation. 
“We should not be looking at aviation from the level of  America. We have to graduate and the way to do it is to have airstrips in place.
“We have, therefore, proposed Okija airstrip, Zuru,  Zaria, Ajaokuta, Mubi, Kotangora, Bida and Urua airstrips for rehabilitation.
“The Uli-Okija airstrip in particular, is good because it will open up the Nnewi Anambra axis and the entire South-East more when we have an aircraft that could take about 50 passengers to take off and land in the hinterland. 
“They are needed because they service the hinterland. It would enable them to move goods and passengers around the country easily.
“That is the basic thing to help guarantee the social and economic development of our nation”, he explained.

Private investors’ idea 
But the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Jibrin Barau (APC Kano North) and Vice Chairman of the Committee, Senator Stella Oduah (APC Anambra North), disagreed with the submission made by Adeyemi.
Specifically, Senator Barau in his remarks, said what the Aviation Committee in collaboration with the Ministry of Aviation should do in making most of the airports functionally viable, is involvement of private investors and not just abandoning them with rehabilitation of airstrips.
“Both airports and airstrips are needed in the country for their economic multiplier effects. Rehabilitation of some airstrips as contained in the report of the Aviation Committee, is a welcome idea deserving the required appropriations but existing airports in some states that are not measuring up to standard in terms of patronage or passengers air traffic; can be made viable through involvement of private investors.
“One thing about all the airports in the country viable or otherwise, is job creation which can be turned to  wealth generation if required investments are facilitated for then”, he said.
Stella Oduah who was a former Minister of Aviation said, existing airports across the states should be made viable in even completing the anticipated benefits from the proposed rehabilitated airstrips.
“Airstrips as proposed and presented, are good and economical in terms of establishment and maintenance but what about the cargo component of air transportation that they cannot offer due to lack of facilities for landing of bigger aircrafts.
“Therefore, one should not be neglected or abandoned for the other”, she said.