I have always said that Nigeria is a country of paradoxes: what is normal everywhere else in the world is abnormal here. The domestic runway of the Murtala Mohammed airport took nearly two years for asphalt resurfacing. At the time, the international runway, which previously took two years for similar renovation, became the only serviceable runway for both domestic and international traffic. Local flights would land at the international wing, taxi for 10-15 minutes (traffic permitting) before disembarking passengers at the local terminals.
Airlines were losing, on a daily basis, about N3m on extra fuel because of the awkward process as the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) management thought, in their narrow mind, that airlines would have no option but to accept any situation dictated by the authority. Strangely enough, no domestic airline challenged such expensive handling.
The same cycle is repeating itself: Runway 18L, the domestic runway in Lagos, for the past three years has been without a single lighting system. Again, aircraft must land on the international runway and taxi to the domestic terminal as from 6pm every day. This is not only costly but a sign of gross irresponsibility on the part of the airports authority. Runway lights provide a perfect outline of the runway that allows the pilot to see it at night and safely land the plane. In major airports, they are controlled by air traffic controllers. Intensities can be low, medium or high to allow for day and night lighting and to adjust for different visibility conditions related to the weather.
There are many different types of runway lights. Each plays a vital role in helping the pilot locate the exact location of the runway and know exactly where to touch the plane down. In any given airport, one is likely to find any of the following types of runway lighting in usage: approach lights, centerline lights; runway edge lights, touchdown zone lights, runway end identification lights, and taxiway lights. Unfortunately, not a single one of these lights is available on the domestic landing strip.
Within one year of landing at the international, and taxing to the domestic wing, the majority of the airlines went bankrupt and the few that survived became heavily indebted to banks. As of today, there is no financially healthy airline in the country. There are two reasons for this: the high cost of operating in a harsh, hostile and inefficient service support environment, and the cost of borrowing and operating in a country where interest rate on lending is almost twice the possible profit derived from such venture. Managing airline business is a precarious and sensitive adventure, even in countries that support aviation with efficient service providers, and responsible airline-friendly policies.
Air transportation business in Nigeria is besieged by draconian rules aimed at extorting funds from airline companies. One such callous policy is “pay as you go” whereby airlines pay cash to both the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and FAAN without a corresponding improvement in services.
Just last year, the president elevated Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu, to international status. In this case, flights would be allowed to take off from the airport to anywhere in the world. Similarly, foreign flights would be allowed to land and clear customs and immigration there. Shortly after the flight that took Odumegwu Ojukwu to the United Kingdom, the security agencies (customs, immigration, SSS and NDLEA) literarily disappeared from the newly acclaimed international airport.
All foreign-inbound flights to Enugu must, first, land in Lagos, Port Harcourt or Abuja and must clear customs and immigration before proceeding to Akanu Ibiam.
The same process is practised for outbound flights to foreign airports.
The future of air transportation in Nigeria lies in how responsible federal agencies in charge of aviation in this country create enabling operating environment for those who risk investment in the aviation sector. The most cost–sensitive business in the modern world is airline operation, where every penny must be properly utilized or accounted for.
While we cannot blame the current minister of aviation for the discrepancies or deviations in the standard operating procedure of the sector, and the inability of FAAN to install runway lighting system on Runway 18L, she has mounted the most complicated podium in our economy. It is not her fault but now her responsibility to, as quickly as possible, install all the necessary lighting system on the domestic runway in Lagos to help save more airlines from further financial burden.