Recently, Nigerian airports failed to meet the safety and security requirements of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) audit for the renewal of Nigeria’s Category 1 safety status.
The consequence of the failure is that Nigerian airlines will be barred from flying to the United States of America within the few weeks if the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN) fail to resolve specified challenges of the aviation sector.
Nigeria’s inability to meet the set standard was linked to the problems of lack of operational state-of-the art civil aviation systems, inadequate provision of technical guidance and tools, ineffective surveillance systems, safety concerns, among other issues.
Stakeholders, on many occasions, have cautioned that these problems could result in air disasters that will leave behind adverse effects on people and investments in the aviation industry.
They note that, in the past 12 years, no fewer than 248 deaths related to air crashes from flight that originated from Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja alone have been recorded.
Worried by the development, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the concessioning of the Abuja international airport for better management.
Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, made this known in Abuja at the fifth Presidential Quarterly Business Forum aimed at improving the ease of doing business in Nigeria.
He underscored the need for the government to partner the private sector in overhauling the Abuja airport infrastructure which has been adjudged to be in a terrible state.
Osinbajo noted that for the economy to be improved, the private sector needed to be involved in many ways which includes making the airport system not just in Abuja but also in Lagos more passenger-friendly.
“We are working hard to make the airports more passenger friendly, but then we have several issues.
“Infrastructure is in a terrible state and we know that public sector has a poor record on maintenance of facilities,” he said.
Sharing similar view during an interview with DAILY POST, the immediate past President of National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), Isaac Balami, stressed the need to upgrade the quality of infrastructure in the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja for effective air transport service delivery to and from the nation’s capital.
He blamed the infrastructure decay in the airport on corruption and lack of transparency on the part of previous officials of government working in the aviation sector.
Balami also said the approved concessioning of the Abuja airport should be used as opportunity to entrench openness and accountability in the management of the airport system in the country.
He said: “No doubt, the panacea to the terrible airport facilities in Abuja is concession. This is because the private sector has the resources to invest for the development of critical infrastructures in the aviation sector.
“Additionally, the private sector is also known to be better than most governments of developing nations in terms of openness and accountability in the deployment, utilization, and management of scarce resources.
“So, concessioning the Abuja airport will augur well for the Nigerian people not only in the short-to-medium term but in the long term since the airport will be returned to government after some years.
“However, there should be efforts to ensure the concessioning process and programme is put in the open, so that the country will get the best out of them.”
Balami further urged stakeholders in the Abuja aviation environment to focus on standardisation of services, processes and solutions to derive meaningful benefits from the approved airport concession programme when it is fully consummated.
To fast-track the Abuja airport concessioning process and to ensure that the benefits inherent in it are maximised, the Federal Government has expressed willingness and determination to address what appears to be an adversarial relationship and trust deficit between the private sector and government.
Okechukwu Enelamah, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, recently assured that some of these issues were already being worked on to ease business processes for both local and foreign investors in the aviation sector.
He noted that the successes of the Federal Government so far have been tied to the responsiveness to and engagements with key players the private sector.
“In many respects we are becoming more and more of a responsive government and we are mindful of the challenges that businesses face, particularly the private sector and incoming investors.
“We would like to understand some of these issues better and proffer solutions,” he said.
By and large, stakeholders agree that government engagement with the private sector in the management of Nnamdi Azikiwe airport, Abuja will help address its infrastructural deficiency.
They, therefore, maintain that having the airport concessioned would tackle its infrastructure decay, avert avoidable air crashes, and also go a long way in ensuring that Nigeria’s Category 1 safety status is note revoked.