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NIGERIA: Transforming Uyo to Maintenance Facility Operational Hub

One of the major drawbacks of the development of aviation in Nigeria is lack of major maintenance facility. Akwa Ibom may soon provide that and save airlines huge resources in cost and delays of overseas checks. The state government intends to capitalise on that by building a hub in the Gulf of Guinea with a new airline.

Although Obakpolor’s Technical and Administrative Report on Air Transport in the country set up by the federal government shortly after the tragic Dana Air crash, last year was largely denounced, but everyone acknowledged one of its recommendations; that Nigeria needs a major Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility.

That acknowledgement stems from the fact that many accidents in the country were attributed to human error, but in most of the accidents the machines malfunctioned but the pilots either failed to follow their checklist or did not take the right decisions.

Over the years industry experts have insisted that Nigeria had failed to become a major aviation player in spite of her huge flying public because it lacks major maintenance facility. And the former Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr Harold Demuren, had said that without MRO facility Nigerian airlines would hardly operate profitably because all their earnings would be spent maintaining their aircraft overseas, which they pay for in dollars, while they earn their revenue in naira.

The most critical of it all is that the airlines are accused of cutting corners in their maintenance schedule and that affects the airworthiness of their aircraft. Reports of some of the accidents that happened indicated that the aircraft had snags before the accident but the airline owner overruled the snags, believing that nothing would happen to the aircraft. And many innocent lives were consumed.
Hope at Last
The Akwa Ibom MRO project will be completed by the end of this year and this will up the rating of Nigeria as major aviation player in the globe. The governor of the state, Godswill Akpabio said  the state government was shopping for a technical partner that would manage the facility by providing the needed technical manpower.

Akpabio said that work on the facility was ongoing and would be completed this year.
“The MRO is a huge facility that can take two wide body aircraft, Boeing 747 or four Boeings 737 with all the dormitories, the spacing and the equipment and all the configurations that will make for effective aircraft maintenance. It is going to be the biggest MRO facility in West and Central Africa. We don’t have proper MRO facility in these regions. The federal government had at some point became interested in the maintenance hangar and wanted to make it a national hangar and it was also part of Obakpolor recommendation, which came shortly after the Dana Air crash, saying there was need for comprehensive MRO facility in Nigeria.”

He said that the facility was being completed and was ready for partnership.
“Some people have come to look at it, like Lufthansa Technik and some groups are beginning to talk to the state government but of course, this opportunity was also thrown open to Bombardier because Bombardier has over 40 aircraft in the country right now, so the facility is a major hangar for aircraft maintenance. So we need collaboration. This is a big facility waiting for Nigerians to take advantage of”.

New Airline
The Akwa Ibom Commissioner for Information, Aniekan Umana, said the intention of  Akpabio’s administration is to position the state as major economic hub within the Gulf of Guinea.
“In considering this, it was reasoned that aviation would be a major propeller in this direction and at one point the state House of Assembly had proposed the idea of putting together an Ibom Airline, which the governor  bought in totality and this is one of the key discussions when His Excellency, along with the Minister of Trade and Investment and the Governor of Anambra state visited the Bombardier Aerospace factory in Toronto, where they manufacture aircraft, especially the Bombardier jets and turbo props”.

So the state is seeking the partnership of Bombardier to establish the planned Ibom Airlines and also if the terms of agreement are reached, Bombardier may manage the MRO facility. Akpabio said the Ibom Airlines would service the region while Uyo would serve as a regional hub to the Gulf of Guinea because Uyo is a very short distance to Equatorial Guinea, to Congo, to Sao Tome and Principe and Angola.

“It will also enable the oil and gas operations in that area to grow and it will also ease the transportation problems of Akwa Ibom state, especially on the Abuja and Lagos routes. The governor  has made his proposal to the President of Bombardier who is eager to go into details to see how this could possibly be a partnership. As you are aware, Akwa Ibom is an international airport,”Umana said.
The Gulf of Guinea is made up of littoral states cutting across five countries in West and Central Africa that have been doing business together for centuries and have cultural affinity in spite of language differences.

The commissioner said the state government was partnering Bombardier because the aircraft manufacturing company produces regional jets that are suitable for the routes in the Gulf Guinea.

“That is why partnership with Bombardier which makes regional jets is imperative. The governor spoke about the need for the aircraft manufacturing company to operate in the region because regional jets will serve the region better as flight time could be a maximum of three hours. For example, the Bombardier aircraft type, CRJ 700 operate Texas to Toronto route; three hours trip, very seamlessly on a back and forth basis and CRJ 900 has been very successful, especially with Arik Air airline in Nigeria.

Funding
Umana said funding was part of the reasons why government was seeking partnership. He explained that government would be an enabler in this process and would seek partnership.
“Partnership will also be for operators. Government will come in its own way. It is just partnership; Public Private Partnership (PPP). That will be the best module.”

Developing Airport Facilities
One of the requirements of the MRO facility is well developed airport, runways, taxiways and other facilities that can accommodate the size of aircraft that could be serviced by the maintenance hangar. So the Akwa Ibom state government is building international terminal at the airport, expanding the existing one that would be used for domestic and General Aviation Terminal. It is also expanding the taxiways and the air side.

“We are building a new terminal and new runway and taxiways are being constructed at the moment and expansion of the apron is on course. We are currently expanding the apron at the General Aviation Terminal. The new terminal will be the international terminal. The general aviation terminal was a temporary facility to enable the people to carry their bags and move away. That one is ongoing. Other facilities like fuelling, port health and power systems are already there,” the Governor explained.

Umana said the airport was a project that was picked up from ground zero with a designated site in 2007 when the government was elected.
“The airport was built with vigour and the commitment that was required. By September 23, 2009, the wide body airplane, the Boeing 737-800 of Arik Air touched down at the runway of the airport. Since then the traffic has justified the need for an airport. Last year alone over 430, 000 passengers have been airlifted from that airport. Since it became operational, passenger movement had grown millions. It also served as international operations for pilgrims from the region.

“That airport is intended to serve as safety and rescue centre for the Gulf of Guinea because it is so strategically positioned and with the kind of investment government is making there and within the oil and gas economy, no investment there could be lost.”

In addition to the existing terminal, the government has earmarked two phases of the development of the airport which has started. New facilities in the first phase are being added including extended runway, aircraft rescue and fire fighting equipment, Air Force Control Tower and interim passenger terminal. There is also aviation fuel tank farm, emergency operating centre and clinic.

The projects that will be completed in the second phase include the cargo terminal with associated apron, second parallel runway, passenger terminal building, 3-5 star airport hotel, aviation training college and other ancillary facilities.

See table below.
Phase I
•    3600 m, expandable to 4200m Runway
•    MRO to serve the critical aircraft :Boeing 747-400
•    Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) facility
•    Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT)
•    Interim Passenger Terminal
•    Technical and Administrative Building
•    Aviation Fuel Farm
•    Emergency Operating Center(EOC)
•    Clinic

Phase II
•    Cargo Terminal with associated Apron
•    Second Parallel Runway
•    Passengers Terminal Building
•    3-5 Star Airport Hotel
•    Aviation Training College
•    Other ancillary facilities

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