Yakubu Dati: WEFA, Nigerian Aviation Beckons To Global Investors

by Yakubu Dati

Following Nigeria’s hosting of the World Economic Forum, Africa, WEFA perhaps, one of the country’s best kept secrets, unveiled to foreign participants was the Nigerian aviation industry. Over the past three years, the country’s aviation industry has undergone a radical transformation that adequately prepared our airports to receive private investors both international and local.

The massive scale of infrastructural development of aviation facilities which may only be rivaled by that of China has positioned Nigeria as a true hub of aviation in sub-Saharan Africa and West Africa, in particular 22 existing airports round the country remodeled and expanded, including four international airports. An important feature of the infrastructure upgrade is the addition of cargo handling facilities to some of these airports. Undoubtedly, this is key if Nigeria is to compete in the global market for perishable agricultural produce which include fresh fruits and vegetables and ornamental plants and fresh flowers. Sister African counties such as South Africa,Tanzania, Cote D’ Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ethiopia, neighbouring Ghana and even far smaller ones as Namibia and Benin Republic  were already making juicy profits from this  market. In 2010, African countries participating in this trade recorded a turnover of about N245 billion.

It is also noteworthy that the construction of five brand new international airport terminals by the Nigerian government, commenced this year, in Lagos, Abuja ,Kano, Port Harcourt  and Enugu. Agreements for financing and construction worth about $5 billion were signed in Bejing last year, between the governments of Nigeria and China. Construction of these state-of-the art international airport terminals with cargo-handling facilities is being handled by the Chinese construction giant, CCEC.

Foreign cargo airlines and experienced cargo handling companies should have a good opportunity here.

For a global buyer of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables, it is now easier to take a direct flight to, for instance Enugu in the South East where he can purchase large quantities of cashew nuts and freight his cargo back home through the cargo wing of the same international airport at Enugu through which he flew into the country. He could finish his business in three days and return to base. In the past, he would have had to fly into Lagos or Abuja or Port Harcourt where there are international airports, before boarding another flight to Enugu.

Last Monday, only few days before the World Economic Forum opened in Abuja Wednesday, the supervising Minister for Aviation, Samuel Ortom, opened the newly constructed VIP lounge at the General Aviation Terminal in Abuja which would cater to the taste and comfort of international business leaders and executives and high ranking government officials coming to the country for the summit. Ortom, who is also the Minister of state for Trade and Investments made it clear that the transformation plan of the present administration in terms of developing and opening up the country’s aviation sector to more investors would continue under his purview.

Last year, under Ortom’s predecessor, Princess Stella Oduah, a fresh programme to transform some Nigerians airports into economic hubs  through the ‘Aerotropolis’ concept was slated for execution.
The novel  ‘Aerotroprolis’ project adopted by the Ministry of Aviation  is expected to attract investors to develop areas near the airport into flourishing economic and social centres with the airport at the centre. The truly ambitious  multi-billion dollar upgrade and rehabilitation of virtually all airport terminals round the country has lifted the country’s profile to a prominent position in the aviation sector on the continent. Several foreign and local investors have already taken notice especially in the associated hospitality industry with a good number of international hotel brands opening hotels in the country in recent times.

In Ikeja,  which is close to the country’s busiest international airport—the Murtala Muhammed  International Airport, MMIA 1, two Best Western hotels have opened at the posh Ikeja GRA  between last year and now. Similarly, two rival Protea Hotels have arrived the same area in the same period of time. A few other global hotel and hospitality brand names, including Radison Blue,  are poised to join the market around the Murtala Mohammed International airport, where construction will commence in the coming days.

To also deepen the country’s air transport market, the Nigerian Aviation Ministry has signed a handful of Bilateral Air Services Agreement with several countries including Jordan and Israel. These agreements have facilitated the commencement of direct flights—for the first time in decades—between Amman and Lagos and Tel Aviv and Lagos, respectively. Interestingly, the US’ Federal Aviation Authority, FAA has only recently concluded a re-certification audit of the safety standards of country’s aviation industry that is expected to re-validate the country’s Category 1 status awarded in 2010.

That shouldn’t be a problem, according to Nigerian aviation authorities, given the giant strides taken by the government in the past three years to beef up air navigation by applying modern air traffic control equipment and technology with a mind to reversing the derisive description of the country as one’ big black hole’ in aviation terms, in previous years. An ultra-modern TRACON equipment and technology is active round the country while several air traffic control towers at key airports round the country have been linked together. Several international contractors including equipment suppliers and technical experts worked with the Nigerian aviation officials in the implementation of this project.

Similarly, the number of fire fighting tenders at key airports such as MMIA1 has been increased from 20 before July, 2011 to at least 46 by end of last year((2013.) Counter –terrorism screening equipment particularly the 3-in-1
(liquids, metals and explosives) have been installed in all Federal  government operated airports round the country.

Late last year, in an unprecedented development, a Nigerian, Dr Bernard Aliu, was elected President of ICAO, the global UN body that regulates and monitors air transport safety round the world. That amounted to a vote of confidence in the Nigerian aviation industry by the rest of the world, particularly, by the developed countries of the West.

There are opportunities for foreign investors to partner with Nigerian aviation agencies to provide state-of-the art access control equipment and technology at our airport terminals, passenger and cargo processing technology, business process/financial control software, among others.
There are also opportunities for foreign investors to set up duty free consumer shops at our airports, set up aircraft repair and maintenance hangers, among other facilities.

The Nigerian Aviation industry is open and ready to do business with the rest of the world, according to supervising Aviation Minister, Ortom, who has shown, in a number of ways, his determination to actualize the Aviation Roadmap, which President Goodluck Jonathan’s government instituted to enable Nigerians, reap in real time, the dividends of his transformation Agenda in the aviation Industry.

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Yakubu Dati, the Coordinating Spokesperson, Aviation Parastatals writes from Lagos.

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