State-owned airport and seaport are critical institutions which Bayelsa State lacked on creation in 1996 and years after. These infrastructures are important due to the state’s vantage position as that which is linked to the high sea and connected to commercial cities within and outside Nigeria via water ways and lands.
This is aside its abundant natural resources, including crude oil and gas, which together with such institutions, could boost movement of persons and goods in and out of the state.
These, besides creating employment and wealth for the people, are the reasons for the Bayelsa State Cargo International Airport and Agge Deep Seaport which is yet to be realised.
Despite skepticisms, the airport project, once dreamt of by the pioneer civilian governor, late D. S. P Alamieyeseigha, was built in the era of former governor, Senator Henry Seriake Dickson, and commissioned, February 20, 2020.
However, it will start operations soon after obtaining licence, the current government has reassured. Thus, it is imperative to position the airport for effective service delivery, ahead of it’s expected take off.
Commencement of flight was delayed by final regulatory conditions for licensing by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). The NCAA ensures that airports and their operations conform to local laws and Annex 17 of the Chicago Convention of 1974 of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) which Nigeria is also a signatory.
The hitch in taking off operations, provoked more criticisms, besides the exact cost of the project, which the past and present governments spiritedly explained was below what was alleged.
But, like some others, a Bayelsan in the aviation sector, Mr. Abraham Apereseimokomo Alfred, feels otherwise. As an aviation manager and airport security expert with specialized trainings from aviation schools, and about fifteen years experience garnered from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos, Mr. Apereseimokom believes that the Bayelsa airport project was not a misplaced priority.
According to Mr. Apereseimokumo who holds degrees in Philosophy and a Doctorate Degree In View, the about 3.5km runway at the Bayelsa State Airport is one of the best in Sub-Saharan Africa. He also asserted that the facilities at the airport are world class in the industry.
For Appreseimokumo, there is therefore, need to put in place, what the NCAA has conditioned the state government. While that is awaited, he has advised Bayelsans and prospective users and airliners, to be patient. He stated that as a critical sector, licence is issued with care, expressing hope that the airport could start operations once the licence is issued.
Going by the expert opinions of Mr. Apereseimokomo and other sources, an airport is a necessary complement to other amenities and a development feature in a state. It is also one of the catalysts in the social and economic advancement of a state. But that all regulatory requirements must be met to operate lawfully. Therefore, Bayelsa State needs to have its own airport. And of course, it has been built, so it cannot be pulled down, despite any grouse.
Against this backdrop, while agreeing that some constructive criticisms may have helped the project, there is need to heed the call by the state government, as made through the Deputy Governor, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, that Bayelsans should shun comments not good for the image of the airport.
This is even more so, as the incumbent governor, Senator Douye Diri has taken up the gauntlet to meet up the final prerequisites for licensing, particularly security-gazettes supported perimeter fence.
With the fencing and other things expected to be accomplished, as promised by the governor, Senator Diri, the next most important thing is effective management of the airport by professional aviation managers and other professionals in the sector.
As the airport is to start operations after ratification by the NCAA, the management team, might need to be riggiged. Core aviation management experts, need to be enlisted. This is to ensure effective and efficient policy formulation and implementation as well as proper coordination of airliners, professionals, technicians and aspects such as security/safety, finance, marketing, corporate communications, community relations and regulatory issues.
Competent and dependable Bayelsans, within and outside the country, could be drafted to handle the airport. This might also ensure that Bayelsans are not dislodged from the dividends of of the airport, as it has happened elsewhere. Use of qualified local manpower, was one of the strategies former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio applied to give its airport a good footing.
However, professional positions where there are no qualified indigenes might be outsourced, pending training of Bayelsans who could later take over.
Effective maintenance culture is vital for sustenance of airport operations and attraction of clients. This is one aspect that only a committed and professionally grounded management team, can guarantee, thus also warranting use of aviation experts.
Corporate communication and crisis management by specialists, for effective public relations and marketing, are also important.
Proactive community relations programmes for core host communities and others in the vicinity of the airport, which its operations will impact on, and could in turn impact on the airport, need to be institutionalized as well. This is to ensure mutually beneficial operations.
The provision of ancillary amenities, such as constant electricity supply, perhaps from a special gas turbine or solar source; construction of more roads, even as the Gate Way Road re-awarded by the incumbent government would be expected to be completed in record time, will no doubt, ease operations of the airport.
General state of security in the state is also necessary for successful airport and airline operations. Therefore, efforts to maintain peace and security need to be sustained.
All these measures are to ensure best global practices as well as effective service delivery in the competitive sector in which many airports and airliners are in comatose or barely existing, due to poor management and overdependence on scarce government subventions. Such a sad fate cannot be envisioned for Bayelsa airport, which has potential to compete with others in the South-South Zone and beyond.
Government therefore, really needs to prioritize enlisting of qualified manpower, to provide proper management and deliver value for passengers’ and airline operators’ money. This would attract more operators and users to the airport as well.
It equally has to use capable hands who will meet its targets of boosting commerce, tourism, employment and internally generated revenues (IGR) through the airport. Already, federal monetary allocations are dwindling, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and unstable price of crude oil.
The Bayelsa State Cargo International Airport, could indeed rank among its counterparts within and outside Nigeria, when it finally commences operations, given effective management, and support from all stakeholders.
Therefore, the call today is on government and all stakeholders to ensure that the airport takes off, and sustains operations in order to achieve its goals.
Etete, Enideneze, Media Practitioner and Public Affairs Analyst