(Louis Iba)

Ranked as the fifth busiest airport in Africa, with an average of 7.5 million-pas­senger traffic achieved in 2014, the Mur­tala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), strategically located in Lagos, Nigeria’s most vibrant and commercial city, has all it takes to create an air trans­portation hub for Nigeria.

Indeed, at no opportune time does the country need an air transport hub, than now when earnings from crude oil had bottomed out forcing the country into an economic recession.

Nigeria has the population (over 170 million) and majority of its citizens like to travel for commerce, education and vacation purposes. In fact, there are mil­lions of Nigerians scattered all over the world (so much that it is believed that one out of five blacks found in any Euro­pean or American city is a Nigerian), and the MMIA over the years has continued to serve as the major entry and exit hub for these passengers.

Role of government

Sadly, over the years, the Federal Government has not been able to make the right investments to unlock the full potentials of the MMIA that could get it listed among the world’s best and beggest international airports. It is the same story with the other international airports located in Enugu, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt.

Nigeria is losing billions of dollars an­nually not being able to tap into the po­tentials in its aviation sector. Not even the recent investments in the remodel­ing and rehabilitation of these airports estimated at $2.2 billion is considered to be sufficient to effectively harness their potentials for national prosperity. Nige­ria’s aviation sector contributes only 0.4 per cent to national GDP but it could contribute more, about 13 per cent, if the right thing is done. And an airport hub remains pivotal in any effort to grow the aviation sector’s contribution to national GDP.

A 2015 data by Airport Council Inter­national showed 10 of the top airport hubs carrying over half a billion passen­gers. The first being the hart field Jack­son Atlanta International Airport, USA with 101.4 million passengers.

Benjing Capital International Airport, China comes second with 89.9 million passengers; Dubai International, UAE ranks third with 78.014 million passen­gers; while the Chicago O’Hare Interna­tional Airport is fourth with 76.9 million pasengers.

What most of these airports have in common is that they are hubs, offering a high number of routes and moving people internationally rather than neces­sarily being the final destination.

Another common feature of these air­ports is that their growth or prosperity is tied to the existence of a vibrant national or flag carrier. The Hartfield Jackson Air­port in Atlanta is driven largely by Delta Airline; just as London Heathrow is pro­pelled by British Airways, and United Airlines has its headquarters in Houston, Texas, USA, which is served by O’Hare International Airport; KLM built a hub in Schipol; while Air France built Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France.

Experts opinion

Mr. Chris Aligbe, an aviation expert, said although the Lagos airport is stra­tegically positioned, the absence of a strong national carrier has marred ef­forts to get natural airport hubs in the country.

Said Aligbe: “Nigeria is the best loca­tion in Africa to build a hub, yet we have not developed it. We cannot develop hubs in our country. Globally, private airlines have developed airports as hub in two countries.

“So, airlines have a role to play in developing air transport hubs. Nigeria can become a hub if it has two or three airlines that are very strong, even if one is not strong enough, but one that can feed the whole of Africa. People coming from America transiting through Lagos then can go to Accra, they go to Niger Republic, they go to South Africa; they go to Cairo; they go everywhere in the continent.

So, aside the ongoing remodeling and rehabilitation of the airports, the Federal Government needs to work harder to float a national or flag carrier. It is a good thing a committee has been inaugurated to work out modalities for a national car­rier.

The Executive Chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Captain Nogie Meggison, who corroborated Alig­be’s views said airlines have a huge role to play in developing air transport hubs.

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He cited the roles Ethiopian Airlines has played in making Addis Ababa a strong hub in the Horn of Africa region distributing passengers from all parts of the continent into its global routes net­work using its many global alliances.

Egypt Air, he said, has developed a hub around Cairo just as South African Air­ways has also developed a hub for Johan­nesburg to distribute passengers around the southern part of the continent.

He said: “But a country needs more than the advantage of geographical loca­tion before it can become a hub. Now, if you take advantages into account, Nige­ria ought to be a hub but then, what re­ally determines a hub is the quality and the capacity of a major carrier in that par­ticular country.

“It is not the population; it is not even the strategic location as it were. KLM is from Netherlands. How many people are in Netherlands? How many of the KLM passengers are going to Netherlands? But because the country has a very big carrier that has wide network, the airline has made Amsterdam a hub.”

Its benefits

Having an airport hub in Lagos or any other city with a vibrant national or flag carrier would mean more flight traffic coming into the airport from other coun­tries.

The economy also benefits because any thriving airport is a source of GDP in itself. The more passengers or freight move through the airport, the more the airport makes money.

A 2013 study found out that half of Fortune 500 companies were headquar­tered within 10 miles of a hub airport. Probably the world’s most notable hub, Dubai International Airport, home to Emirates Airline, experienced a 6.1 per cent growth in passengers traffic in 2014, raising its international passenger mani­fest to around 33 times its national popu­lation. The success story of Dubai Airport offers Nigeria enough hope and lessons to learn.

Dubai International Airport is an im­portant contributor to the Dubai econ­omy, employing approximately 90,000 people, indirectly supports over 400,000 jobs and contributes over $26.7 billion to the economy, which represents around 27 per cent of Dubai’s GDP and 21 per cent of the employment in Dubai.

It is predicted that by 2020, the eco­nomic contribution of Dubai’s aviation sector will rise to 37.5 per cent of the city’s GDP and by 2030, the economic impact of aviation is projected to grow to $88.1 billion and will support 1.95 million jobs in Dubai or 44.7 per cent of the GDP and 35.1 per cent of the total employment.

From Magnus Eze, Abuja

THE Federal Government has extended invitation to private investors to invest in the production of avia­tion fuel in the country.

Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, who made the invitation in a keynote address at this year’s African Aviation Day in Abuja, disclosed that ar­rangements have reached an advanced stage to com­mence the production of Aviation Fuel (jet A1) in the country in order to bring down the cost, ensure regu­larize supply and also for export.

This is as he appealed to countries participating in the forum to support Nigeria in its bid to retain Part 2 status in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) council.

Represented by the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Sabiu Zakari, the minister decried the high cost of aircraft maintenance and shortage of management manpower, but pointed out that government is in the process of establishing a major Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) through Public Private Partner­ship to allow for an A to D checks of most aircraft type.