Unless government designs policies that will promote strong indigenous air transport carriers, the ambition to develop some airports into a hub would remain a dream, IFEOMA OKEKE writes.
Airline hubs or hub airports are used by one or more airlines to concentrate passenger traffic and flight operations at a given airport. They serve as transfer (or stop-over) points to get passengers to their final destination. It is part of the hub-and-spoke system.
Hubs work by pooling regional demand from leisure passengers, international transfer passengers, business passengers and freight, to make more routes and regular flights viable.
While some airports in Africa have metamorphosed to become strong hubs, serving airlines across the globe and enhancing connectivity, Nigeria, the most populated country in West Africa which has a market strategically located at the centre of Africa has failed to leverage its potential to build an aviation hub for the region.
Nigeria’s potential to become an aviation hub for Africa, using its natural advantages such as its central location on the continent, huge population and a growing middle class, is being stymied by poor aviation infrastructure and lethargy from a government which urgently needs to diversify its economy away from oil.
Experts say establishing Nigeria as a regional aviation hub would move it one step away from dependence on oil and result in the creation of economic activity that would spin-off jobs and attract revenue, even beyond the aviation sector.
African airports with strong hubs
There are strong hub airports in East Africa, South Africa and North Africa, which account for most of the scheduled capacity in Africa.
Oliver Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg (South Africa) is the busiest and largest airport in South Africa and on the continent. In 2016, the airport handled a total of over 20 million passengers and it is expected to reach between 24 and 28 million passengers in the coming years.
Cairo International Airport is located near the capital city, Cairo, 22 km northeast of the city center in the district of Heliopolis. It is one of the busiest airports in the Arab world and Africa. The second largest airport in Africa after ORTIA, it serves as the primary hub of various Egyptian airlines, including EgyptAir, Nile Air and EgyptAir Express. The airport processes over 14.5 million travellers passing through annually.
Cape Town International Airport is now the second largest airport in South Africa (after ORTIA) and the third busiest on the continent. It is located 20 kilometers east of Cape Town and is considered to be one of the best airports in all of Africa. It has five terminals that are easily accessible on foot. The airport is utilised by more than 8.5 million passengers every year.
Benefits of having aviation hubs
All over the world, the best model to adopt for airlines to operate efficiently and effectively, is through airline connectivity, which is precipitated through airport hubs.
Nick Fadugba, the CEO, African Aviation Services Limited, said that strong hub airports are the key to airline connectivity, adding that airline connectivity stimulates economic growth.
Fadugba regretted that West and Central Africa have not been so successful in establishing strong hub airports, reiterating that strong hub airports enable efficient passenger and cargo transfers.
“Effective hub and spoke operations multiply the number of city pairs that can be connected,” he added.
Other experts say that the advantages that accrue from being a hub include revenues from payment of landing and parking fees, servicing of aircrafts, airport taxes, business for the hospitality and transport sector, amongst others.
What Nigeria requires to become an aviation hub
Major global aircraft manufacturer, US Boeing, had in 2012 started preliminary discussion with Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Aviation towards an agreement to develop the country into a regional aviation hub, and reposition the sector as the reference point on all aviation matters in Africa.
Boeing stated that the requirements for attaining the goal included the enhancement and sustenance the nation’s aviation safety record, as well as establishing Maintenance and Repair Organisations (MROs) in the country.
Also required, it said, was the establishment of a Training Hub in Nigeria, along with technical assessments of all aircraft operated by domestic airlines in the country and a fleet renewal and acquisition programme for the airlines.
Boeing further said it was necessary to develop an aviation database and Integrated Air Navigation Systems, Optimisation System Support for Airports and Airlines, as well as assess existing spare-parts and material marts in Nigeria, with a view to proposing a business partnership case for the establishment of an integrated spare parts super market in the country.
Nogie Meggison, Executive Chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), told BusinessDay that Nigeria’s natural advantages alone cannot make it become a hub; rather it needs strong airlines that could distribute passengers from Europe, the Americas, Asia and other destinations outside the continent to various parts of Africa, when they arrive at the airport which operates as hub. The agreement for some reasons did not take off.
“At the Murtala Muhammed Airport, there are no amenities for transit passengers. So, passengers will not want to spend money to transit from Nigeria. Rather, they transit Dubai, where there is accommodation, free food and music among others,” he explained.
Meggison added that there is an urgent need to upgrade airport runways, lights and terminals. Citing an example of Dubai, Meggison noted that Dubai leveraged its geographic location to become a natural hub between the East and the West. “If Nigeria becomes a hub for Africa, that will mean more taxes from food, hotels and landing charges from airlines. Aviation is not airline only; there is a service that goes to it,” Meggison said.