Almost a year after the new vigour to end the historic blackout on the Runway 18L, the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, still awaits the deployment of the airfield lighting it has been deprived of in the past 14 years.
The project was scheduled to be executed within six-month of the new contract mentioned in July 2021, but the repair is yet to begin.
Meanwhile, the impact of the routine blackout and attendant underutilisation of the facility is telling on local airlines’ schedules even as traffic demand has recorded a boost in both local and international segments.
Runway 18L, which services the local airport, was in 2008 rehabilitated but without provision for an airfield lighting system.
Managing Director of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Capt. Rabiu Yadudu, last year, said the lightening 18L runway was delayed because of an existing contract, but that “the minister has graciously accepted to resolve the protracted issue and he agreed to grant us approval to quickly procure a new lighting system.”
As at this week, operators still described the local airport as an “operational nightmare”, especially at nightfall or in bad weather.
The airport is central to the operations of all domestic carriers. Daily operations begin and end in Lagos for most aircraft. Without runway lighting for night operations, the runway is shut at sunset, forcing the domestic terminal and airlines to wind down operations at dusk – the peak air business globally.
The alternative is at nightfall (from 6pm), all Lagos-bound domestic carriers are diverted to the international section (18R), and made to taxi about four kilometres back to the domestic terminal, which costs extra fuel, flight congestion and disruptions.
Chief Operation Officer of one of the airlines, yesterday, said the “infrastructural neglect” has continued to hobble the potential growth of local operators.
“It is true that we are fast returning to the pre-COVID-19 traffic level, but, sadly, we are still facing the same infrastructural challenges of old. The number of airlines has increased and so too is the aircraft movement, but the infrastructure cannot sustain the growth.
“Without the runway lighting, aircraft take-offs are delayed every morning. In the evening, we face congestion trying to compete with foreign carriers on Runway 18R. Nothing should stop the airlines from operating round the clock in 24-hour airports. We have opened a new terminal but forget that to make the runway work optimally. All these have serious cost implications on operations. Passengers will blame airlines for flight delays, but these are the restraining factors that we are facing,” he said.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said about 13 million passengers travelled through Nigerian airports in 2021. The figure represents a growth rate of 43.41 per cent from nine million recorded in 2020.
A member of the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON) said the body had consistently drawn attention of the Minister and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to the “critical gap” in Lagos, with pledges of getting something done for years.
His worry was the security risk and embarrassment of having the entire airport closed when an incident occurred on the international runway. And that has occurred at least on two occasions in recent times.
A former commandant of the Lagos Airport, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd) said FAAN has no excuse for neglecting the runway and the R parallel taxiway in Lagos.
Ojikutu said in as much as they would want to blame funding, the MMA is in financial fine-fettle to regularly upgrade its facilities to world standards.
“My knowledge of airports’ earnings tells me that MMA alone can generate a minimum of N100 billion revenue. The question I have asked severally is: why can’t the airport spend 10 percent of its earnings on the maintenance of the airport infrastructure and facilities? What are the actual earnings from our airports that the maintenance of the critical infrastructure and facilities are in disrepair and are neglected? Unfortunately too, the staff unions and airline operators are not seen or known to be vigorously complaining about these neglects,” Ojikutu said.