THE PUBLIC SPHERE with Chido Nwakanma
Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State has delivered a beautiful piece of real estate called the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport Umueri to much delight and plaudits from citizens. The Government rolled out the drums on 30 April 2021 to launch the test flight into the airport. Three jets flew in, confirming that aeroplanes can land and take off even as the airport still requires work.
What parameters would best serve to determine ROI for this project? Would it be viability in strict aviation terms of passenger numbers, or would it be the social capital of the psychological uplift it gives to citizens? The challenge is to ensure effective utilisation of this beautiful property to deliver the requisite return on investment even as no one knows the project cost yet.
Anambra State Government adumbrates the many positives of the airport. According to Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, James Eze, “The Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport has been described as one of the best airports in sub-Saharan Africa. It has a CAT 2 runway that measures 3.7km long and 60 meters wide. It can land aircraft from either side of the approaches with a ground lighting system of 270mm. The runway is connected to the Apron by two taxiways which measure 35m wide with shoulders. The Taxiways lead directly to the Apron covering 300mx200m x 560m of reinforced concrete that can comfortably accommodate six aircraft at once.
“The Terminal Building was designed to accommodate 400 persons. It has 36 shops, two mezzanine floors, three lifts and three elevators and a ramp to facilitate the movement of physically challenged travellers. The Control Tower stands 34.5 meters tall. It was designed to resist fire. It is equipped with both a staircase and a lift. The airport has the most sophisticated fire-fighting machines known in the aviation industry. The car park can accommodate 700 vehicles.”
The Government claims that “aviation experts agree that the viability of the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport is almost certain. Anambra is home to the most mobile sub-group of Nigeria’s three major ethnic nationalities”. Why? Obiano claims that “our people crisscross the globe in search of a better life,” and declared “this airport is, therefore, a timely bridge between Anambra and the world.”
Thisday columnist, Okey Ikechukwu, amplified this claim with a weighty assertion. “The volume of business available in the South-east can sustain even an additional cargo and passenger airport; as the region can gobble up everything the airports can throw at it; and much more”.
The airport reportedly has a world-class hangar that should serve as a viable option to flying aeroplanes abroad for servicing and maintenance!
All very gung-ho and laudable. Since the publicity for the airport commenced until the trial run, I waited in vain for anyone to support the generalisation about the travelling propensity of Ndi Anambra and Igbo people with facts and figures. Zilch.
They cannot cite the stats because the tale of the tape does not support the folktale about travelling people. They may travel far and wide, but the aviation industry has yet to record the vaunted heavy traffic to the Eastern airports. It did not exist pre-Corona when the economy looked up. It is open to speculation what it will be now.
In the early 90s, Indian marketing expert Vinita Bali came on an exchange to Cadbury Nigeria. Cadbury Nigeria was trying to replicate Cadbury Schweppes by introducing chocolates as cocoa was abundant. While there was indeed a gap in the market, there was no market in the gap, she declared. The adventure ended. Ms Bali went on to be Marketing Director of Coca Cola worldwide.
I have stated here that the three airports proposed for the South East are veritable White Elephants https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2020/08/16/our-airport-is-newer-and-bigger-than-yours-though-a-white-elephant/.
Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu is number five in passenger numbers in the top ten of Nigerian airports. MMA Lagos leads, followed by Nnamdi Azikiwe in Abuja, Port Harcourt International, and Mallam Aminu Kano Airport, Kano. Others are Benin Airport at sixth, Osubi Airport, Warri at seventh, Kaduna International Airport at eight, Margaret Ekpo International, Calabar ninth and Sadiq Abubakar International Airport, Sokoto at tenth. Note that neither Sam Mbakwe Airport Owerri nor Asaba Airport feature in the top ten, yet both serve the people with an avowed capacity for “crisscrossing the globe.”
Asaba Airport, like Umueri, hopes to “tap the vast economic potentials accruable from the proximity to the eastern commercial cities of Onitsha and Nnewi, and be a hub for the export of agricultural and manufactured goods”, says Governor Ifeanyi Okowa. Between the first commercial flight to Asaba on 24 March 2011 and October 2013, the airport recorded an average of 260 flights and 6800 passengers per month. It does not feature in the Top 15 nationally despite the promise of Onitsha and Nnewi.
Aviation is going through a downturn globally. A McKinsey report noted, “It’s difficult to overstate just how much the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated airlines. In 2020, industry revenues totalled $328 billion, around 40 per cent of the previous years. In nominal terms, that is the same as in 2000. The sector is expected to be smaller for years to come; we project traffic won’t return to 2019 levels before 2024.”
Further, the African Development Bank does not foresee recovery for aviation in Africa until 2025. In a report, AfDB stated, “It is important to note that, likewise within the rest of the continents, African aviation industry may likely not recover 2019 figures until 2024/25. How long the full recovery of the aviation industry takes will depend on governments’ progress in controlling the pandemic, the launch date of an efficient and affordable vaccine for the entire world population and the measures taken by governments to keep the aviation and tourism industries afloat among others.” https://www.afdb.org/sites/
On the positive side, rising insecurity on the roads from the activities of the herdsmen may increase local air traffic. Yet, Asaba is closer to Onitsha and Nnewi!
To restate, Governor Willie Obiano has delivered a beautiful piece of real estate with the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport. It is a laudable feat. It is a project with much social capital and a signifier such as the National Theatre, Lagos. Soon it will be the postcard for Ndi Anambra to show what the state can do and announce its identity and pride. It will boost the confidence of the citizens and speaks to aspiration and potential.
Before the Anambra State Government, the challenge is the effective utilisation of this property in estate management terms to ensure it delivers return on investments. Start with aviation, where Nigerians fly primarily for business. Anambra must create a market for leisure and tourism that would bring in travellers. McKinsey notes that business travel is the last to recover. “In previous crises, leisure trips or visits to friends and relatives tended to rebound first, as was the case in the United Kingdom following 9/11 and the global financial crisis.” With Zoom, business travel will reduce significantly.
Then the state must create and build use-scenarios for the facilities at the airport that complement but do not depend on passenger traffic. Property and event managers and other specialists would need to develop creative possibilities for a terminal that accommodates 400 people and 36 shops and the vast space. Finally, concession the airport to experienced facility managers.
There are still issues such as getting slots for airlines to fly to Umueri and scheduling of international frequency. The Anambra State government would also justify the cost and location of the project to her citizens. They should now step up to the national and international. May the airport live up to the huge expectations.