Saturday 18 August 2012

Imperatives Of Aviation Infrastructure Reconstruction, A Historical Perspective

By Odunayo G. Bifarin.

In Nigeria it easy for us to dismiss the importance of airport terminals in the scheme of transportation, this is due in part to the stagnant development that characterized air travel over the years.

From the humble beginnings of the first recorded aviation activity in Kano in 1925 when a RAF pilot made a breath- taking but safe landing on the horse race course in Kano, the historic moment went down in history as the first recorded aviation activity in Nigeria.

The dilapidated structures that characterize airport terminals in Nigeria today have diminished over the years from the world class structures they were as at the time of construction almost 40 years ago. It is only proper that we trace the history of aviation in Nigeria, which shows that the earliest known commercial aviation activity in Nigeria is credited to one gentle man, "Bud" Carpenter, who owned the earliest type of the Light aircraft, de Havilland Moth.

Records show that he frequently undertook high-risk flights between Kano and Lagos, using the rail tracks as his guide and piling up extra distance in the process. Unfortunately all this humble gains have been eroded away by years of mismanagement.

In the early 1930s, an enterprising pilot carried a few fare-paying passengers in a seaplane between Lagos and Warri. With the continuation of the annual RPLF flights, aviation activities in Nigeria became quite considerable, creating the need for aerodromes.

Consequently, a representative of the Air Ministry in London visited Nigeria to inspect what could then be appropriately described as "landing grounds". Sites were selected at Maiduguri, Oshogbo, Lagos, Minna, Kano and Kaduna. Wing Commander E. H. Coleman, one of the earliest observers of the evolution of civil aviation in Nigeria described the aerodromes thus:

It must be remembered, however that what was called an aerodrome in those days would by no means meet requirements for even some of the small airplanes of modern times. In the early days it was considered necessary to construct several runways oriented in varying directions to avoid cross wind landings and take-offs, as the older type of tail-wheel aircraft was more prone to swing than the modern nose wheel types.

However, no matter how simplistic these were, they still served the purpose, however in times of increasing air safety and technological advancement Nigerian aviation sector failed to keep up with the gains that innovation had bequeathed to other visionary countries especially during the military years of the 1980s and early 90s. Fast forward to 2012 -it is not a secret knowledge that most of the Nigerian Airports and Terminals were built in the 70s, as such by 2011 they were decayed and in a state of utter dysfunction.

All Airport Users attest to the fact that our Infrastructure was a disgrace and embarrassment to our National pride. Imagine an airport without adequate toilet facilities; this was what Nigerians and foreigners alike had suffered for several years. As such it is remarkable and important the current call for the remodelling and reconstruction of the Industry must be supported in all ramifications.

The Minister of Aviation Stella Oduah must be commended for the giant strides taking to ensure that the projects come on stream immediately, despite the barrage of criticisms that has trailed the flag off the media.

The airports in major cities like Abuja, Lagos, and Port-Hacourt etc are already in the process of enjoying this rejuvenation.

Most importantly this new investment will go a long way in ensuring that Nigeria's air safety record rises to be at par with global best practices. Certainly Nigerian air travellers deserve the very best.


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