Nigeria has about 28 airports. Twenty-three of them, including the Ibadan Airport, are managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
Statistics from aviation regulatory authority reveals that only three of them are viable. Except the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja; and Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), Rivers State, none of the other airports has sufficient revenue to cover the cost of operations alone.
In the South, Ibadan Airport in three years made N349.2 million in generated revenue and collected N244.9 million. The expenditure amounted to N1.39 billion with a deficit of N1.14 billion.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says for an airport to be viable and self-sustaining, it must have at least five million passengers annually.
Ibadan Airport does not fit into this bill. Only Lagos and Abuja airports could boast of at least five million passengers annually.
The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, declared recently that many of the airports are not just underdeveloped, but grossly underutilised.
The Ibadan Airport, which offers a gateway to the oldest city in Nigeria,was commissioned in 1982. The airport is home to one terminal and an impressive 2,400-metre-long runway.
Besides its impressive facilities profile, the airport remains largely underutilised as Overland Airways is the only carrier operating scheduled flights into the terminal connecting passengers between Ibadan to Abuja and a return flight between Abuja and Ibadan.
Though carriers, including Arik Air and Associated Aviation had operated flights into the airport in the past, operations into the airport are becoming a subject of intense concern for passengers who complain of perceived high fares on the route.
The General Manager, Public Affairs, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) , Mrs Henrietta Yakubu, said the authority was discussing with the Oyo State government on how to drive activities for Ibadan Airport. She said the government is exploring ways to attract more airlines into the airport.
But, the former Chief Executive Officer , Associated Aviation , Mr Alexander Nwuba , the carrier that opened flights into the airport many years ago, said operators need to understand how the airport works before deploying their aircraft into it for profitable operations.
He said airlines need the right aircraft strategy and passenger demand to drive operations into Ibadan Airport.
Nwuba said though air fares is a key determinant in driving passenger traffic into any airport, operators need to understand route dynamics before plugging into air transport business.
He said:” You have to understand how to operate into that airport. Remember Ibadan Airport is very close to Lagos. I operated on that route for many years along with Makurdi and also re-opened it and Minna Airport.
“The destination for most Ibadan passengers is Abuja not Ilorin, because it is accessible by road. But, there could be traffic on the Lagos / Ibadan route if interested airlines utilise the right aircraft or strategy, because some passengers do not want to take the risk of being on the roads that are not safe.
“Another key factor affecting Ibadan Airport is the question of demand. There must be demand for air services; it is this drive for demand that would enable airlines make money on the route. It is clear demand for air services into the airport is limited. It is not absolutely about the air fare structure or regime, because fares do not have to be low due to volumes. People do not understand this business.”
Also speaking, Corporate Communications Manager, Arik Air, Mr Adebanji Ola, said the carrier will return to the route to consolidate operations.
He said Ibadan Airport, which Arik Air connected to Abuja, is one of its major routes saying the carrier will return to the route in a few days.
Ola said the carrier only suspended operations into Ibadan Airport due to the COVID -19 shocks on its operations.
He said:” Arik Air has not abandoned Ibadan Airport. We will restart flight operations into the airport in a few days. We only suspended flights on the Ibadan / Abuja route due to the Corona Virus pandemic.
“There was a time we combined flights on that route with Ilorin into Abuja. But, due to limited equipment we altered the rotation and will now operate between Ibadan and Abuja.”
The Head of Strategy, Zenith Travel and former Head of Marketing, Capital Airlines, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, said Ibadan Airport is not attractive to passenger because of a lot of issues related to schedules.
He said with a lone operator in Ibadan Airport fares will remain high on the Ibadan- Abuja routes because the airport only operate visual flight rules as any operations into the airport above 6.00 pm will cost airlines more because of the state of runway facilities that does not permit night flights.
Ohunayo said to make Ibadan Airport attractive, airlines need to deploy smaller propeller aircraft as deploying bigger jets on the route will not be profitable.
He said Ibadan Airport as a secondary terminal require partnership between the state government, FAAN and airlines to creating activity around the airport.
The expert said: “Ibadan Airport is not a big airport per se , but I think FAAN is yet to adjust to the realities of modern day marketing of airports. The airport has proximity airports including Akure and Ilorin Airports and the main hub Lagos Airport. These airports are not too far and actually competing with Ibadan Airport.
“From the triangular routes that we have Lagos , Abuja and Port Harcourt, I think it is only Abuja that is left for Ibadan passengers are travel to by air. They will prefer to connect other cities by road, because they are close. Other factors affecting huge traffic into Ibadan Airport include issues about time constrain, the difficulty of getting to the airport , possible flight delay and traffic issues, which will encourage people to connect Lagos by road to fly to other destinations, these are the considerations that are affecting the Ibadan air market route.
“The major attraction at the airport is the Abuja route and the only operator on that route is offering high fares. With a lone operator on a route what do you expect, the fare will be high.
“Fares on the Ibadan/ Abuja route is killing and passengers are complaining, with only a few passengers ready to pay. Such an arrangement will discourage passengers on that route.”
He said Ibadan Airport lack basic aeronautical facilities as the runway light only permits visual flights. Ohunayo said after 6pm operators are not favourable disposed to operate flights because they have to pay extra charges for the runway air field lightening to be switch on.
He said:” Such additional charges will not encourage airlines to operate into such airports. The state government has not looked at Ibadan Airport as an economic tool it could use to develop the state. The State Government should look beyond giving out hand out to FAAN to get the airport running, it should look at partnering with some airlines by buying some seats off the carrier to encourage more people to start flying into Ibadan.
“The state government could look at buying may be ten to 12 seats on a middle range aircraft. With such partnership in place it will encourage more airlines to operate into the airport. Any airline that enjoys such partnership for over a year will be encourage keeping flights consistent and starting looking at flights from Lagos into Ibadan and expand flights into other airports from Ibadan.
“I think airlines with smaller aircraft will embrace such a deal, it is a thin route, only suitable for airlines with turbo propeller aircraft. Only State Government can assist such initiative to develop their domain. Even neighbouring states will be encouraged to buy into such initiative.”
Many passengers are unhappy over limited flights into Ibadan Airport either into Lagos, Ilorin or Abuja forcing them to connect Lagos Airport to fly into other routes.
Experts say introduction of rail service between Lagos and Ibadan may not bode well for passenger operations into the airport as travel lets will utilize the newly introduced multi modal network to connect both cities.
Speaking in an interview , Ibadan Airport Manager, Mrs Aiyenuro Tegha, said the aerodrome is not idle because some carriers , including Arik Sir which operated the Ibadan / Abuja route before the outset of COVID -19 pandemic in March 2020 will soon resume operations on the route.
She said AZMAN Air and Max Air were planning to commence flight operations from Ibadan Airport.
Tegha said: “Already AZMAN Air is discussing with Oyo State government to commence operations on the Ibadan / Kano route. The airline is consolidating its partnership and the results will soon manifest positively. Even, Max Air too is discussing with the airport authority and the State Government. Max Air is also planning to commence operations from Ibadan to Port Harcourt and Owerri.
“AZMAN Air is contemplating operations into the Southsouth.”
The Ibadan Airport Manager said the airport has adequate facilities to accommodate as many airlines willing to do business at the aerodrome.
She said the Oyo State government is partnering with FAAN to upgrade the airport to international status for Hajj operations as well as cargo operations.
Ibadan is one of the most populous cities in the country. The British colonial government assumed control of the city in 1893. After the railway arrived from Lagos (1901), the line was extended northward to Kano (1912), thus ensuring the city’s continuing economic importance.
The economic activities of Ibadan include agriculture, commerce, handicrafts, manufacturing, and service industries.