With plans on top gear to open the newly established Anambra Cargo International Airport, officially for commercial flights, stakeholders in the Aviation have stressed the need for the Anambra State to ensure Airport remains operational viable.
Mixed feelings have continued to trail the viability of the Airport as stakeholders hinge their fears on the fact that the South East already having three to four busy airports puts a question mark on the profitability of the new Anambra Cargo Airport, in the first instance.
To avoid adding to the number of dormant airports in the Country, stakeholders while calling on the Anambra State Government to ensure it implements the viability it has on paper, have also itemised ways to make the Cargo Airport viable.
Situated on a massive landscape in Umueri village in the State, the Airport has created a new social and economic community for the elated Anambra people who had waited for three decades to see the dream of an airport come true.
Though a topnotch facility with three access roads, stakeholders in an exclusive interview with National Business have given a template that would make the Airport the preferred choice for investors, saying that the viability of an airport is beyond just setting up an edifice.
Focus on cargo
Aviation Analyst, Chris Aligbe, said the viability of the Airport depends firstly on what the focus is, stating that if it is cargo it is likely to move faster because they’re sitting at a place where there are so many importations and businesses.
However, he said if the focus is on passenger there would be a kind of challenge because of the Enugu and Asaba airports in the region, adding that much of the area in Anambra are closer to Asaba than to the Anamabra Airport.
But in terms of cargo he noted that it will be easier for people who trade in the area to take their goods to Anambra Airport rather than Asaba.
Aligbe advised that the State should ensure a professional handles the management of the Airport to enhance its viability.
He said: “If they want to manage it by themselves it’s going to be tough, I think they should give it to professional people to manage and not look at it that this our airport let’s give it to our people.
“They should manage it professionally and commercially; since they have built the airport they can do management concession but a certain percentage of people working at the airport must come from the State.
“So they look for professional manager to manage the airport, somebody with competence, enough to take the airport to the height.”
Investment – make good government policies
The Analyst noted that an airport as it were does not draw investment; rather it can only be a vehicle in the environment it is to draw investors.
“If the environment is safe and if the investment policies are good the Airport will be a vehicle. The State therefore must have a good investment policy that’ll be attractive to people to come there, and then the airport will be a channel for people to come there,” he explained.
Ensure availability of facility & manpower
On his part, Former Chairman, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Lagos Airport Chapter, Dr. Segun Musa, said that the viability of an airport is subject to the availability of the facility; equipment as well as manpower on ground.
“If the Anambra Airport has the facilities that will compete favourably with other airports that are regarded as viable airports now, then it should encourage anybody to choose the airport as a better option,” Musa said.
On Investment, he stated that every investor or business person does not look at the closeness of the airport but he looks at the viability while the proximity is an added advantage, hence the nearness of the Airport to commercial cities like Onitsha and Nnewi does not guarantee patronage.
“The proximity will only be a judgment or a factor if the viability is also inclusive. The airport must be viable, must be business friendly, must be able to facilitate trade, must be reasonable in cost and also have those available strengths that all those airports that are regarded as viable and these are what will encourage anyone to look at that airport as an option,” the logistics expert pointed out.
Like Aligbe, he said that wooing investors is subject to government policies; “if the government policy is friendly and the government is putting all the necessary amenities in place that will drive investment naturally investors will come otherwise, definitely investors will not come.”
He stressed that investors are not are looking at the airport but what is in place to prosper their business, hence, investors can stay anywhere and operate from anywhere as long as it will prosper the investment.
In view of this, he said the government of Anambra State must know how to drive investment towards the Aviation Sector as a major factor to make the Airport a preferred choice.
Good access road
Musa noted that every investor, tourist and every user of the airport wants to see the good access roads; the accessibility to the airport. “For a business person that wants to use the airport, both the agro and allied investors that want to invest in agriculture and perishable items want to see the access road of the airport to the rural area that will link them to the airport conveniently,” he said.
Play the aviation politics
According to Musa beyond state governance there are so many interests that you must accommodate and engage in a constructive manner that will please them to make your airport to be viable.
“If you’re not engaging them and you think you’ve already gotten your airport and the interests are not factored in you’ll be making a lot of mistakes because what drives investment is not the airport but interests,” he pointed out.
“For instance, the Ilorin Cargo Airport despite the fact it has access roads it still lacks patronage, because the government does not know how to drive investment towards the aviation Sector.
“Also Akanu Ibiam International Airport as it is today is good as not functional because the government of that Airport does not know how to play politics in aviation,” he said.
Musa advised the Anambra State Government to make use of its own ground handlers and seek approval from agencies operating at the airport as well as airlines to review downwards charges for their services to airport users while they depend on turnover to boost income.
In this way, Anambra Airport will become a number one choice in the South East and beyond.
He said: “For instance, the Anambra State Government can engage the Oil & Gas companies and ask them, what are the incentives you’re getting from Port Harcourt and Lagos airports, we want to give you something better than what you’re getting presently.
“What will make your business viable if you bring it to Anambra International Cargo Airport so you don’t want to use PortHarcourt or Lagos airport. Then you now engage the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) as the landlord of the airport that in all these airports these are your charges but for us here we want you to trim it down so that we can work on turn over.
“We promised all these investors that when they come to our airport our own FAAN charges are lower than what they get elsewhere because we need turnover. The turnover is business not the lump sum and waiting for lump sum is what kills business.
“So they (Anambra Airport) should look at turnover and use it to encourage investment so that at the end of the day when investors are coming they’re coming with the mind that they are coming to the market that is reasonable and accommodates their interest.
“The government of Anambra can even begin to engage the Customs and say look we don’t want to have the Nigeria Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) and Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO). So at the end of the day you must be able to make use of your own aviation handling unit.
“We have maritime or border or airport corridor, as a government that accommodates these corridors you must be able to play this politics, if not the corridors will not be viable.
“Then along the line when traffic starts improving, the capacity is improving and the storage delivery they can now begin to review their charges gradually.
“That is how to drive business, government doesn’t need to be in business but they can be participator in business and when they are participator in business they also show their stake and ensure that the interests that will hold the business are not neglected.
“So my candid advice is that the airport will be viable as long as the government is interested driving the airport for profitability and efficiency.
“Again the government can as an individual start engaging airlines and ask them what are the incentives that you are getting from SAHCO and NAHCO that you think we can provide for you and make Anambra to be a viable airport for you so that when you’re charging freight, your freight to Lagos could also be lower than it is to Anambra.
“How do you want us to influence the federal government so that FAAN, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and other charges to you will be minimal and reduced lesser than what it is in other airports?”
Link Airport with light rail
Musa advised the Anambra State Government to link that airport with light rail to make it to be organised, “this is what other states have not achieved,” he said.
He further advised the Anambra State Government not to make the mistake other airports made but look at a private sector to partner with so that the government can also have a stake in that Airport.
Speaking from the perspective of an Airline Operator, the Chief Operating Officer (COO)/Accountable Manager of Dana Air, Mr. Obi Mbanuzuo, said the viability of an airport is not about the structure but the quality of infrastructure in place.
He noted that the Anambra State Government said there is an amount of viability in the airport but that what matters now is the actual implementation of what they have on paper.
However, he pointed out that airlines benefit more when the airport is nearer to the passengers.
His words: “I believe both the governors and people of the State did some preliminary work before they built an airport because you wonder why Anambra State will decide to go in the way of building an airport.
“In their own analysis they were saying that they have some amount of viability so everything will now depend on actual implementation of whatever they have on paper.
“So as an airline we’re open; to be honest to you for we the airlines the closer to our populace; the passengers the better for everybody rather than travelling like we have in the Nigeria context 200 kilometres to get on a plane.
“But now the question of viability is something we’ll look at and see what the State Government plans for the Airport. Everything depends on the quality of the Airport; it’s not just putting a structure down.
“We have in this part of the world the harmattan haze that happens every year; do you have the correct equipment for the airlines’ safety to operate at the airport, do you have radio navigational aids; what you have put down, something to allow the airline fly in safety?
“Example of Dana Air, we have to do an analysis of every airport before we fly to the place, we have specialists for that; check what they have on ground, the landing aids, is the runway long enough? Safety side of it, those are the first things we look at.”
Mbanuzuo also approved of PPP saying the Anambra State Government should get an airport operator to manage the place for them, only for the reason that government should not be involved in business.
However, the Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano, at the inaugural flight of Air Peace to the Airport on April 30, had assured that the economic values from this airport cannot be quantified, stating that his vision was to make Anambra State the first choice investment destination, hub of industrialisation and commercial activities.