Despite all indications that the country is in fact a natural hub in Africa, government agencies and Ministers have described Nigeria as the continent’s trigger, and as route most equidistant to all the major locations in the world.
All these are true to a degree, however, the fact that the natural hub has not emerged from the country despite all these whether due to lack of planning, leadership or downright myopia continues to baffle the senses and make you ask why?
Is it the number of airlines coming in? The lack of major connections? Lack of transition passages for passengers? Perhaps the lack of transit hotels? Whichever of the few items listed still does not answer the decades old question, ‘Why isn’t there a hub airport in Nigeria?’
In fact, a travel expert, Mr. Ikechi Uko who is also Convener, the prestigious Akwaaba African Travel Market, decried that the intended hub in Nigeria, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport ( MMIA) is not yet a hub owing majorly to a whole lot of infrastructural limitations that hinder the airport from transiting passengers, as well as limitations of frequencies, lack of visa on arrival, lack of national carrier, Maintenance, Repair, Organisation (MRO) and economic factors.
Mr. Uko who spoke to the 5th Edition of LAAC’s Travel Watch Magazine said: “First, the infrastructural limitations are obvious; your airport is not transiting passengers. If someone is transiting through Nigeria (MMIA) to Cameroon he first has to go through immigration, pick his bag before heading to the lounge
“Your waiting lounge is also not built for such. If you go to any other airport the transfer area is well built for that but your airport does not have it and is not built for such business. Even if you look at the airport, the new Lagos airport terminal cannot accommodate big aircraft. The avio-bridge they have made for B737 is the biggest you can get on the avio-bridge.”
“You also have other limitations that have to do with frequencies. There have to be frequent travels in a hub. Most airlines do not have that frequency because most of our operations are done on bilateral agreements
Some of the limitations Mr. Uko mentioned however seems to have been addressed in the oil-rich, South-South state, Akwa Ibom where the Government through succession planning have been able to deliver not only a first terminal but a four year airline, a Maintenance Repair and Overhaul ( MRO) facility and now, a newly constructed Victor Attah International Airport terminal, a smart terminal, the first of its kind in Nigeria built in a bid to do aviation the right way.
Chief Operating Officer (COO) of one leg of the tripod aviation ecosystem Akwa Ibom has built, Mr. George Uriesi who was speaking on the new Smart Terminal described it as a game changer and an all purpose built hub able to do what other terminals have not been able to.
Uriesi said that despite the fact that Lomé is a small city in Togo, situating an airline there and working on a strategy similar to what the state government is doing with its tripod approach of aviation development, Asky has been able to develop Lome into a huge hub moving 1.2million passengers, of which less than 5 per cent were originating or terminating in Lomé.
He said,” The new terminal brings the huge game changing reality to the industry in Nigeria. First of all, it is the first purpose built hub terminal specifically designed to move passengers from flight to flight. You can arrive from a domestic flight and connect to an international flight Also you can arrive from an international flight and connect to a domestic flight.
“Arrive at an international flight and connect to an international right on the same terminal under the same airport experience which is world class. It all adds to the joy of travelling that we have kind of lost in Nigeria because of the very poor airport experience that visitors to Nigeria have experienced through the other international terminals over time.
“With this terminal, ” he said,”if you want to go to Johannesburg, you book a flight like a domestic flight out of Abuja. You can fly into Uyo to connect to Johannesburg. The wow airport experience you will get will make you never want to go and fly out of any inconvenient airport. ”
“The effect of the beautiful transit point in Uyo. A very very nice and globally competitive flight to wherever you are going. We are going to have a well controlled environment. That is what we want to present to airport users. We are going to collaborate with all the security services and every other person that has anything to do with processing of passengers to make the experience going through Uyo airport a world-class experience like you find anywhere else you go to.
” By providing these services through these game changing terminal, we expect to build this hub into a hub in West Africa that really has never been seen before.
On Asky’s ability to move 1.2million passengers, of which all but 5 per cent transferred passengers , Uriesi commended the feat but revealed that many of the passengers transiting were Nigerians
” The vast majority of these passengers are Nigerians who had to go out of Nigeria to Lome to go and connect to other places. That is the problem we are trying to solve. We are trying to yank the airport and flying experience of passengers in Nigeria out of the old stone age into the modern age.
“Ibom Air’s strategy from the very beginning was hinged on being an airline that had resources like any other competitive airline. You want to go and compete in a very very brutal environment with airlines that have MROs, hub terminals. That is what we are doing and that is the type of stories we have here in Uyo.
“Our strategy is to be able to build the world-class African Regional airline as our vision is to be able to provide a world class service. And to provide a world class service, everything comes into play.
“These include: airport experience, onboard experience of the passengers, customer service elements through the buying of tickets, check-in, arrival, and delivery of bags. We want to control all these inputs to make sure that we are working in tandem with our partners, Ibom Airport Development Company Limited (IADCL) that owns the airport to build Uyo into a very competitive hub in Africa. That is the whole idea of this terminal. To build a strong airline.
From all indications the State Government has truly invested in a vision putting its money where its mouth is by trying to open up that region with its multi-million dollar aviation ecosystem, what now remains is how much support these lofty projects can garner both from public and private sector.