By Sumaila Ogbaje, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
The task of changing the narratives on the Port Harcourt International airport has been daunting for the Federal Government over the years, especially on the remodeling of its domestic terminal and the new international terminal.
However, the Ministry of Aviation began the remodeling of some selected airports in the country in 2012, including the one in Port Harcourt and the construction of international terminals in Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt.
The terminal projects, funded by the Export-Import Bank of China (China EXIMbank) and the Nigerian Government, began in 2014 to be completed in March 2015 but the date of completion failed due to some issues arising from technical and structural deficiencies.
The Port Harcourt airport terminal, funded with 500 million dollars from China and counterpart funding of 100 million dollars from Nigerian Government, was constructed by China Civil Engineering and Construction Company and inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari on October 25.
From the outside to the interior of the terminal, one could notice a foretaste of what a world class airport should look like and even the ambiances represent the state of the art airport facilities.
During the inauguration in Port Harcourt, Buhari said that the new international terminal would address the increasing international air travel needs of the country, adding that the increase in population had also added impetus.
He said that since the existing terminals in all the major airports in the country were opened in late 1970s and early 1980s, not much had been done to increase their handling capacities by successive administrations
The president said that the completion of the project was an example of government’s deliberate policy to sustain the development of infrastructure for economic growth in all geo-political zones of the country.
He said that the inauguration of the terminal was a response to global trend in which aviation had become a catalyst for economic growth as a result of massive and speedy movement of persons, goods and services in a safe and secure manner.
According to him, following the large increase in national population with consequent surge in air passenger traffic, the capacity of the airport terminals became woefully inadequate to cater for the increase in passenger traffic.
“Although, palliative measures were periodically carried out, the facilities were fast giving-in to the effects of wear and tear. It, therefore, became necessary to take decisive action to ensure our terminals meet minimum international standards for the travelling public.
“As part of the infrastructure renewal programme, the construction of four new international terminals at Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano airports was embarked upon by the Federal Government with a view to modernising the aging airport infrastructure,’’ the president said.
The president said that this was to meet global aviation standards and improved service delivery in tandem with best international practices.
He said that Nigeria, with advantageous central location within the sub-region and its desire to develop into a regional air transportation hub, must upgrade its facilities to take advantage of its assets.
He expressed confidence that the new terminal would help to enhance the economic activities in the state and commended the people of the state for their patience during the construction period.
Senator Hadi Sirika, the Minister of State for Aviation, said that the new international terminal had the capacity to process seven million passengers annually, bigger than what Ghana could process annually.
He said that Port Harcourt airport, being the third-busiest airport in the country, was very important to the Nigerian economy.
“It is therefore gladdening to state that a project conceived over five years ago is seeing the light of the day as the terminal in Port Harcourt is complete and ready. It is also our expectation that the efforts of other agencies in handling security threat at airports across the country keep pace with the world global growth trend.
“We remain steadfast in our efforts to ensure the repositioning of the industry and economy. The latest 2018 Global competitiveness index ranking by the World Economic Forum is an indication that we are on the right track,’’ he said.
The minister observed that as at the time the present administration came on board, the level of work on the terminal was less than 30 per cent.
He added that the project was also bedeviled with various technical challenges which included foundation design change, inaccessibility to apron, inadequate apron, master plan distortion, water and sewage provision, litigation and inadequate power supply.
“I have no doubt that this project will greatly impact on air transportation, airport users, the entire community and other sectors of the economy. According to the Nigeria Integrated Infrastructure Master plan 775 billion dollars is required to develop Nigeria’s transportation infrastructure over the next 30 years.
“Nigeria needs to attract quality investment through Public Private Partnerships to make our airports world class, profitable, efficient, comfortable, safe, and secure for the travelling public,’’ he said.
The Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Mr Saleh Dunoma, said that the international passengers passing through the airport would henceforth experience the best comfort that an international airport could offer.
Dunoma said that the new state of the art terminal had changed the narratives that Port Harcourt Airport was hitherto the dirtiest airport in the country and one among the worst in the world.
According to him, the inauguration of this new terminal by the president is a direct answer to those that have once rated this airport as the worst.
He noted that the government was committed to completing the remodeling of the existing old terminal that would serve as domestic airport.
“It has been a whole lot of work because what the government decided to do was to embark on the construction of the new terminal and the remodeling of the domestic terminal and we worked hard to make sure that these two projects are completed. I thank the president for the support because when they came in, this project was at a very low level of completion and today, all issues have been resolved and this project is ready for use.
“We are going to start using it immediately and the international passengers are going to have a wonderful experience here because all facilities that are required for international operations are provided and the terminal is very apt in design and of high capacity. Work is also ongoing at the local terminal even though it had been very slow but we are almost there,’’ he observed.