Nigeria is one of Africa’s most diverse and interesting aviation markets, with many airlines and airports providing a feast of opportunities for aviation operators. What is fantastic is that the Nigerian government has greenlit significant renovation works at all of its airports, opening up plenty of opportunities for adventurous firms.

“The president disclosed that the construction and upgrade of a new terminal in all the 22 airports in the country are in response to the fast-growing economy of the country”Nigerian Channels TV in 2013.

What is the airport landscape?

To sum up the entire airport puzzle of Nigeria, its best to remember that there are three sets of five in each category. There are five international airports, five major domestic airports, and five significant regional airports.

Of the total airports in the country, only 38 are paved. Of these 38, nine have runways over 3.000 meters (capable of taking all aircraft), 11 over 2.400 meters (can take all widebodies, but can’t facilitate takeoff of larger 747s and A380s), ten over 1.500 meters, and eight under 1.500 meters (narrowbody planes only).

Nigeria’s main two international airports are Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. Three other significant international airports are Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in Kano, Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu, and Port Harcourt International Airport in Port Harcourt.

Murtala Muhammed International Airport

Starting its life as Lagos International Airport, this airport is based on its European counterparts, like Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. The airport has suffered from decades of a bad reputation – such as robberies and aircraft themselves broken into on the runway. In fact, in the 90s, the FAA suspended all flights from the airport to the United States as it was deemed too unsafe for passengers.

Fortunately, in the 2000s, a new democratically elected government took control. It instituted harsh penalties for corruption and trespassers (such as shooting at people if they were found on the runway), significantly improving its rating and winning back airlines such as Emirates, Delta, and China Southern. Not only did the FAA restore access rights to the airport, but in 2010 the FAA gave the airport the highest possible safety rating.

Today the airport is the defacto primary airport in the country and one of the best ways to enter the nation. It is home to the countries biggest airline, Arik Air, and boasts the who’s who of 30 international flag carrier airlines. It is also the headquarters of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, which manages nearly every airport in the country.

The government’s plans include building a second international airport in Lagos, Lekki-Epe International Airport. However, funding problems have stalled the project, and the 2012 open date has swung by, leaving the government empty-handed. As of 2019, the airport is still suffering from funding problems.

In the current Coronavirus crisis, the airport was the frontline for nationals returning to the country. It was the first to be approved for reopened arrivals and only yesterday (as of this publication date), increased the arrivals to 200 passengers per aircraft.

“The Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos with the new update is to see on the average, 2.200 passengers daily, while the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, is to witness averagely, 1.400 passengers on a daily basis. A total of 25.200 seats per week is now available to foreign carriers to sell.” said Musa Nuhu, the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

Speaking of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport…

Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport

Located in Abuja, this airport serves the capital city of the country. It originally only had one terminal until 2000 when a new international terminal was built, both served by a single runway. The government has tried to make a second runway for this congested airport, but even after awarding the contract, the government rejected the plans and returned to the bidding stage. This plan is only one of many strange machinations enacted by the local authority, seemingly happy to hire private firms to work at the airport and only to cancel the bid at the last minute.

In fact, the airport was poised to fall under a private operator (Abuja Gateway Consortium) in 2006 for around $100 million US, who would’ve invested in a hotel, carparks, and even a shopping mall, when the government backflipped, canceling the tender. In 2017, the government tried to close the airport to repair the single runway (which by this point had been damaged by heavy use), only for it to be stonewalled by local government officials who said closing it would cause too many problems.

But in the end, the airport was closed for six weeks and repairs made to the runway, and in 2018 ground was finally broken on a new terminal for the airport. The airport also built a new private jet terminal in 2016 as a base for the non-scheduled commercial aviation industry in the country, hosting several private aviation firms.

Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport

Kano’s primary airport, Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, has been transformed from its humble beginnings as an airforce base, to an international airport serving pilgrimage flights to Mecca. But its aspirations of being a truly massive international hub so far have only resulted in flights to Africa and those to the Middle East, with the last European carrier, KLM, pulling out in 2012.

The airport still operates one of its two runways as a military airstrip for the local airforce, with the other runway servicing passenger aircraft. While there are two terminals, the international one sees little traffic outside of the pilgrimage.

Akanu Ibiam International Airport

An international airport only thanks to a single flight to Addis Ababa by Ethiopian Airlines, the government of Nigeria is interested in upgrading this facility to match other rivals around the region. When fully upgraded, the Akanu Ibiam airport will handle 500.000 passengers each year, with the airport reopening in August 2020, after a full year of upgrade works.

“We are proud to say that this project is indeed a testimony to Mr. President’s commitment to infrastructure development in the country. You may recall that the runway of this essential airport, which is vital to the economic development of the region and the whole country at large, was in a very dilapidated stage and worse condition,” said last August the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, to Nigeria’s Premium Times.

The airport took its first domestic flight in September and will open to its international airlines when the Coronavirus crisis is over.

Port Harcourt International Airport

The last of the five major airports of Nigeria is Port Harcourt’s international airport (serving the town of the same name) and the third busiest in the country (with over a million passengers a year). It has two terminals and is the focus of significant upgrade works by the current president of the country. It has limited access to international markets (none currently during the Coronavirus pandemic) such as Lufthansa to Frankfurt, Turkish Airlines to Instanbul, Air France to Paris, and Ethiopian Airlines to Addis Ababa.

In 2006, the government had to issue an emergency shutdown of the airport and close all incoming flights due to a lack of runway repairs. Flights were diverted to other airports, and it took over a year to make the repairs and secure the border of the airport. But it seemed to put the airport back on the right track and in 2018, the government started constructing a third terminal.

During the current Coronavirus crisis, this airport has seen the swift implementation of a strict 1.5-meter isolation rule, and staff temperature screening all incoming passengers and those departing.

This is because we want to fish out persons with a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius and above so that we can isolate such individual. Our cardinal objective is to ensure that we contain the spread of COVID-19 as well as other communicable diseases within the airport.” – Head of Aviation Medical Clinic of the airport, Dr Nuhu Mwabi said to Anariametrics.

Decades of neglect but an enthusiastic government

The bottom line is that Nigeria’s airport infrastructure is hampered by decades of neglect, with an enthusiastic government conducting improvements in a haphazard way. With plans to build a new terminal across each of these five airports, Nigeria’s airport network is finally seeing the love and appreciation that it deserves. This added investment also comes with government focus, with red tape vanishing for those firms eager to put down roots in Nigeria.

However, a word of warning. If a firm were to take advantage of this market, they would need to understand the risks first before launching any venture. Eways Aviation are the experts in the Nigerian aviation market and invite you to tap into our network to facilitate your needs. Get in touch with us today.