My Journey to Akanu Ibiam Int. Airport Enugu: A Review of Airport Services (Part 2)

Posted by Paul Oranika | 28 January 2014 | 9,546 times

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Let me begin by extending my heartfelt appreciation to thousands of comments generated by Part one of this report. Overwhelming numbers of the feedback I received through the Forums, as well as private messages and Phone calls were very positive. I did not realize the potential for this story when I began writing it, neither did I know that it would go viral on the internet. The copy I posted on BQ Dazzling Creations link on Facebook generated about 28,000 reads. I am very glad that hundreds of you said your next flight to Nigeria would be on Ethiopian Airlines, to those who have flown Ethiopian Airlines before who acknowledged the authenticity of my account I thank you as well. For full disclosure I have no business or professional relationship with Ethiopian Airlines. What a difference this story has made.

Before I get into the services at Akanu Ibiam Airport let me address one question from a friend of mine (a non Southeasterner) who called me on the Phone and congratulated me on the report, but asked a question many other Nigerians from other Political Zones in the country have often asked as well. He asked me to explain to him reasons why Southeasterners in general were so excited about the internationalization of Enugu airport. It was a fair question to ask I thought, so I told him that unless he finds himself in the situation Southeast travelers faced he may not understand. But I told him that apart from the huge economic impact the airport is poised to make in the Southeast (A story for another day) here is a personal reason for me and my family to celebrate the international status of the airport. This experience was before United and Delta started direct flights to Lagos and Abuja, but even with that making it to the east is still difficult.

About 10 years ago my daughter and I travelled to Nigeria so she can connect with her parent’s homeland and meet her extended family. Our flight was booked on KLM which flies from Atlanta where we live to Amsterdam and to Lagos. Looks easy and convenient you might think, not so fast until you hear the rest of the story. So we took off from Atlanta after about 10 hours or so we landed in Amsterdam in Holland. We spent the next 5-6 hours at Skipol Airport doing nothing but seating around watching people moving around. The airport authorities in Amsterdam knew exactly the potential of having people seat around at the airport doing nothing so they opened a gambling casino right inside the airport to encourage bored passengers to spend some money gambling. Nevertheless after the boring 6 hours we were ready to board the Lagos bound flight.

These foreign airlines have always taken passengers for granted particularly passengers from Nigeria. So as we boarded they told me they would check one of our hand luggage, I asked them why and they said they have limited space for hand luggage. I reminded them that we had no problem with the KLM flight from Atlanta with respect to the hand luggage and that we also paid full fares for two. I asked why this policy is meted out for Nigerian passengers alone. They decided to allow us to board with all the hand luggage. Inside the plane there was so much room for hand luggage contrary to the lie KLM staff told me.

After another 8 hours or so we landed at Lagos. We spent another 3 hours at the airport through the lines of the Immigration and the luggage Conveyor Belt area and then through the Customs, and finally we came out of the airport. By the time we finished it was about 6 or 7 pm, what should we do next was the thought on my mind. One of our brothers met us at the airport, and told us we have no chances of flying to Enugu that night because it was Christmas time and flights were fully booked and because of bad weather some previous flights were cancelled causing a backlog of passengers travelling to the east. He told me that our best option if we intend to reach our hometown the following day was to use the luxury bus service and leave early in the morning. So we went to a Hotel near the airport and checked in and spent the night there and early in the morning my brother came back and took us to Mazamaza Luxury Bus Terminal off Lagos Badagry Rd where we encountered another mad rush of travelers heading to the East. It was tough getting tickets to travel that day but my brother facilitated the process and we bought our tickets and boarded the “Young Shall Grow” bus and about 9.30 am the bus left the Terminal heading to the East. This trip under normal circumstance should take no more that 5 ½ hours. Along the way after we passed the Tollgate my daughter said “Daddy I have to use the Restroom” I said oh my God, I told her that the bus was not equipped with a Restroom but I will talk to the Driver about making a quick stop.

She kept quiet momentarily. For the next 2 hours after crawling in the bumper-to bumper traffic, my daughter asked me how far are we to the next Rest Area? Rest Areas are common for U.S. Interstate travel for motorists who may want to take a break or even to catch an hour nap. I knew the answer would not please her but I told my daughter that unfortunately there are no Rest Areas on Nigerian Highways. At that point I called the conductor and told him to ask the driver if he could pullover. The driver was actually willing to do that but I knew it would not work because my daughter had no previous experience in doing what a typical Nigerian would do under that condition. So the painful and stressful journey continued until we reached Ore and the bus stopped for meal break, there were Restrooms at the Restaurant in the small plaza, what a relief to that bathroom problem. The Luxury Bus industry in Nigeria should be regulated in my view, an interstate bus carrying about 45-50 passengers must not be allowed to operate without a Restroom. The bus operators order these busses many from Germany or Brazil and specifically request for busses with no Restroom, so as to maximize space for additional passengers, what a shame!!

To make the long story short the journey continued and we crawled on the pot hole-infested highway until we reached Benin City. From Benin through Agbor and Asaba the road was fine. We reached the now famous head bridge at Onitsha where the Lagos deportees were dumped and we spent one more hour in traffic through the bridge. We finally reached Onitsha at Upper Iweka Rd around 7.30 pm about 10 hours from departure time in Lagos. We then took a taxi to my home town about 12 miles from Onitsha. We reached home about 8.30pm on the third day since we left the United States. The Ethiopian Airlines journey from the U.S. to Enugu only took 18 hours, and another 45 minutes to my home town for a total of 18 hours, and 45 minutes, the traveler has access to a Rest Room throughout the duration of the trip. Remember this was the extended version of the reply I gave to my friend who asked why there was so much excitement over the internationalization of the Enugu airport. My friend said it was a very moving and emotional story and he now fully understand. He noted that many people are not aware of the agony of Southeasterners on international flights to and from the East. Let me now address the main topic of this piece dealing with services at Akanu Ibiam Airport.

An Assessment of Services at Akanu Ibiam Airport Enugu

In the following segment I will tell a personal account of what I saw and experienced through the Arrival and Departure Halls of the Enugu Airport. In my first report I said the Enugu Airport is work in progress, let me also reiterate that point here so that the many of you planning to travel to Akanu Ibiam Airport would know what to expect. First and foremost the readers must understand that the airport is a Nigerian airport located in the Southeast. It is managed by the Nigerian Airports Authority and staffed by the Nigerian Immigration and Customs Services and Air Traffic Control is also handled by the Federal Aviation Authorities. The staff at the airport represents the ethnic diversity of Nigeria. There were Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Effik and so on.

The first observation I made was that as soon as the plane landed on the runway (A flawless landing in my view) the plane taxied all the way to the end of the Runway, at first I was perplexed why the pilot had to go to the end of the runway, I quickly realized that he had to do that in order to do a U-turn because the end of the runway had an extended circular end which allowed aircrafts to turn around. The plane now taxied back in the other direction after making a U-Turn. This to me is unconventional, the airport contractors should construct an exit taxi ramp so that as soon as flights land on the runway, when the pilots complete the landing protocol and the airplane is now operating at normal taxi ramp speed, the pilot should be able exit quickly into the first taxi ramp, but in this case there was no option other than for the plane to taxi to the end of the runway in other to turn around. This to me is a very minor issue because the Contractor could easily add more taxiways from the runway. I am speaking as a lay person and non-air traffic engineer, perhaps there is a reason for this, but the fact that the airport quite possibly handles few take offs and landings per day should not be the reason. It is more efficient and safer to get the landed plane out of the runway as soon as possible.

As we exited the plane and walked towards the Arrival Hall it became obvious to me that the Arrival Hall is not yet totally finished compared to the Departure Hall which looked very nice with brand new air conditioner units and VIP Lounge. When we entered the Arrival Hall we were directed to the Immigration desk and there were two counters, one for Nigerian Citizens and the other desk was for Non-Citizens. We all lined up behind the Nigerian Citizens Counter; it was rather a very long line, while the non-citizen counter had only about five people on that line. So I wondered why the Nigerian Citizen counter should be just one Desk considering the fact that the airport authorities knows very well that possibly up to 90% or more of  the international flights to Enugu would be mostly Nigerian travelers.

Eventually the Immigration Officer asked some people to join the Non-Citizen line. Soon they collected our passports. After 20 minutes or so on the line, I stepped to the counter and told the Immigration officer that we respect and appreciate their work at this brand new airport but we are wondering why after 20 minutes or so the line is not moving, then all the passengers joined by expressing their thoughts as well that it is taking too much time to even begin processing.

The Immigration officer politely told me that the line would soon move that we should give them a little more time. I said many of us are using this airport for the first time and we are excited we are able to fly to Enugu from Addis Ababa, and we certainly want to see a better service here than what we are used to in other Nigerian airports, I told the officer that I am not looking for preferential treatment and not speaking to them in this regard.

I went back to the line, soon after that the line began moving, in five minutes I was processed through the Immigration line when it got to my turn. I said very good!! At least these Immigration officers are polite and listening to the complaints from passengers. When I got to the Immigration desk I realized they were using a laptop to process the passengers. I wondered why the Nigerian Immigration Services is using one small laptop. So this is in line with my point that this is work in progress, not being critical here because I also recognize that this is a brand new airport and we have much room for improvement. So the total time I spent in the Immigration line was about 25 minutes, based on my experiences in other Nigerian airports that was good. I was the 10th person on the line so those at the back of the line may spend more time through the Immigration Desk than I did.

Next I went to the Baggage claim area where surprisingly my two checked baggage were already rolling on the conveyor belt. I collected them and an airport worker came to me and asked if I needed a cart I said yes and he brought one and put my luggage on the cart for the final stop, before I complete the arrival protocol. This time it was the Customs Counter. About 5 Customs officials were on duty I said to myself wow! What a crew lined up just to check luggage. Okay, they greeted me “Oga Welcome.” “Thank you,” I replied. “Please open your bags for inspection,” one officer said. I said “Okay” and unlocked two of my checked bags. “What do you have?” one officer asked. I said “personal effects and few gift items.” They searched my bags and asked me to close them. The Customs search was quick and within 10 minutes I was done. Nobody asked me for any form of bribes – the only money I spent was the tip for the cart and my helper. Nonetheless some of the airport staff asked me if I have any gift for them I smiled and said sorry I don’t have any gift items and that ended it. Outside the airport were about 100 Yellow Airport Taxis, I was told that you can pick up a taxi from the airport to Abakaliki, Awka, Onitsha, Owerri, Umuahia, Aba and even to Port Harcourt. I had no need for a taxi because my brother was there to pick me up.

On the return date I had the opportunity to evaluate the all important issue of security at Akanu Ibiam airport. As you enter the airport there is a check point operated by the Nigerian Police in collaboration with another agency. All vehicles are searched, and my taxi driver was asked to open the trunk for inspection. Once we passed the check point we pulled up to the Airport entrance where I was dropped off. I went into the airport and went straight to the Ethiopian Airlines counter. They asked for my ticket, I booked online I told the agent but I do have my reservation and confirmation itinerary. They referred me to another desk where they authenticated my booking and reservation information through the computer and printed my boarding passes from Enugu to Addis Ababa and Addis Ababa to Washington Dulles Airport. My luggage was tagged with my name and weighed, in a nutshell all standard provisions used internationally in processing passengers were carried out. That was good, I concluded.

Now I was referred to the Customs for baggage search. A thorough search of my luggage was carried out by two separate Customs agents. Then my luggage was sent for electronic screening through the x-ray machine, once it passed through the machine I thought it was the end of the screening process but I was wrong on that. Next I was asked to open the luggage again for human search once more. This is the fourth time and final search. It was then put onto a buggy for loading into the aircraft.

Then I went to the Immigration desk, my travelling documents were authenticated and now I was on my way for hand luggage and body search. Everything with me including the hand luggage, my laptop, belt, shoes were passed through the x-ray machine a standard practice all over the world. I passed through the human x-ray door and was hand searched from neck to toe on exit and finally I completed the screening process and I entered the Departure Hall and sat down. The Departure Hall looked nice unlike the arrival Hall which to me seemed unfinished. I had time to check things out all the air conditioner units were brand new and worked extremely well to the point that few travelers slipped their sweaters on. I went to the bathrooms and I found the bathroom in immaculate condition. I certainly hope this standard is kept up because we all know that maintenance is a serious problem in Nigeria, but I was very impressed with the condition of the Departure Hall.

Three photos were hanged on the walls overlooking the Gate through which passengers would be boarding the airplane. President Goodluck Jonathan flanked on both sides by Governor Chime of Enugu State and the Aviation Minister Princess Oduah. The Departure Hall was full at this point as every passenger patiently waited for the boarding announcement.

When the Boarding announcement was made it was not exactly what everyone expected. The announcer said, “Ladies and Gentlemen we will now conduct the ‘Pre-Boarding Screening’.” Oh no! It dawned on us that we were about to be screened again, every passenger was screened again and hand luggage was once more checked. Finally boarding began, VIPs and First-class passengers boarded first and other passengers boarded according to their zones indicated on their Boarding Pass. Soon the Ethiopian Boeing 757 carrying about 175 Passengers pulled out of the gates, and taxied towards the Run Way. In a matter of minutes the engines fired and the trip to Addis Ababa had commenced.

Concluding Remarks

It is obvious that many services at the Akanu Ibiam Airport indeed meet and in some cases exceed the international standards nevertheless there are some areas where improvements are needed. The security checks were thorough at times seemed burdensome but I was willing to go through such rigorous process because too much security is better than insufficient security. The Airport Building design is okay but is not impressive. Enugu deserves a better Airport Building design that may make some statement through its architecture. The Arrival Hall should have been finished and decorated lavishly because remember that Enugu Airport is now an entry point for foreign visitors to Nigeria so the first impression the visitors make of the city or Nigeria depends on their initial feelings as they enter the country.

The Runway requires more taxi ways so when planes land they do not have to go all the way to the end of the Runway in order to do a U-turn. The entire airport building is small; in fact the Departure Terminal cannot hold all the passengers for two Boeing 757 Jets which seats 350 passengers. The Southeast should think ahead, this terminal should eventually be used as a Domestic Terminal, and in the coming years a brand new International Terminal should be built in line with what we have in Lagos and Abuja.

 As we took off I looked through the window for an aerial view of the airport and it is obvious that there are lots of vacant land for airport expansion. Enugu State Government must acquire additional territory for expansion of Akanu Ibiam airport. Government can always do this through the power of “Eminent Domain” which allows them to acquire personal property for public use although owners must be compensated in line with market price of their property. The Southeast must build a new International Terminal and a second Runway that can allow the biggest Jumbo Jets such as Boeing 787 or 777 to land at Enugu. Airline companies often decide where to fly to based on market demand. We don’t have to sell ourselves short any longer.

If and when the new Nigeria Airways begins flying again we in the Southeast must demand that Enugu must have direct flights to places Nigeria Airways flies to just like Lagos and Abuja. This airport has significant potential benefits to the Southeast economy. I have always believed that the best way to achieve maximum economic development for Nigeria is to develop all of Nigeria’s Federating Units or Political Zones as well. The Trickle Down approach which assumes that if you focus economic developments in Lagos and Abuja, then it would ultimately trickle down to other places in Nigeria is faulty and outdated. This approach has not worked and has created economic marginalization and underdevelopment of other zones in the country. This syndrome has facilitated the evolution of the “Nigerian Theory of Dependency”, hence we have to depend on Lagos and Abuja airports as our access points to the world for over 54 years since independence.

The process of transforming Enugu into a Mega City has begun. There are so many positive things happening at Enugu which I can now describe the city as an emerging social and economic Hub of the Southeast. It is the crossroads of the Southeast with dual carriage Expressways intersecting in the city from all directions, such as the Enugu-Awka-Onitsha-Benin-Lagos; The Enugu-Abakaliki Expressway; the Enugu-Owerri Expressway; the Enugu-Nsukka-Lokoja-Abuja Highway; and the new Enugu-Baminda (Cameroon) highway. It is a growing destination for many Nollywood film Producers, and growing number of Multinational Corporations are establishing outlets in the City. In my next report I will highlight the emerging positive environment for transformation of Enugu into a Mega City, don’t miss it.

•Paul Okechukwu Oranika, who originally published this article on igboworldforum@yahoogroups.com, is an author of many books, the most recent being “Stock Market Trading: Beginner’s Guide for Profitable investing”. He can be reached by e-mail at oranika@aol.com or oranika@yahoo.com. Photo shows the airport terminal. Inset is Governor Chime.


Source: News Express

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