The Asaba International Airport is a significant example of Public-Private Partnership in Airports development in Africa. What has been your experience and how has the concession progressed so far?
The experience has been good. We have a good communication with the state through a specially created body, the Project Delivery Oversight Committee. Representatives from the Delta State administration and Asaba Airport Company sit on a regular basis to discuss the progress. As this is the first time in Nigeria a state airport is managed under concession by a private company. We, both the Delta State Government and us, were aware some challenges were going to arise. We have been able to change many things at the airport, including some vital equipment like generators, NAVAIDs, UPS, etc., comfort to the passengers including free Wifi, larger boarding area, fully lit car-park, renovated VIP lounge, centralized air-conditioning, etc., increased safety and security, and support to the users new offices, renovated building for the agencies. We are proud to have achieved all this in less than two years.

Asaba Airport is described as a cargo airport; how would you describe the airport’s air cargo activities and potential?
We have read a lot about cargo airports in Nigeria. Rare are the airports that can survive with only cargo. You need to be hub for a major cargo airline to generate enough traffic to be economically viable with just cargo. Asaba International Airport is an airport for mainly passengers and some cargo. Cargo is very limited for the moment. We have the ambition to grow the airport on both cargo and passengers. The focus for now is on passengers as we need to build the volumes to become profitable. The only way for air cargo to really develop is with the full support for the various public offices like Ministry of Agriculture, Trade, Finance, etc. Cold rooms, packing and distribution centers for farmers, good access roads, and assistance with required paperwork for export, etc. are essential. It’s the task for the government to make it possible for farmers to export. Nigeria exports little produce compared to Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa. The industry is not yet mature enough to do it by itself and be profitable.

What have been the main challenges you encounter in managing the Asaba Airport?
We are a private company with limited funds and more careful than the other airport operators. The various stakeholders must understand that we don’t have deep pockets as the government and all expenses are carefully planned and examined. The impression that airports and aviation in general makes a lot of money is wrong. It is a capital-intensive industry but with small profit margins.

“With a population of over 200 million people, you would expect a lot more air cargo, domestically and internationally. The government should assist the industry to reduce the cost for the shippers and consignees. Warehouses should be built; red tape should be reduced and initiatives should be assisted to grow.”

- Christophe Pinninck, Managing Director, Asaba International Airport

The Asaba International Airport is located close to the River Niger; would you say this provides any advantage in terms of multi-modal transport for movement of cargo?
Eventually this will be an advantage. For the moment there is no interaction between the other transport branches. Besides, the River Niger is not maintained and is deep enough for traffic only six months a year. This is not reliable enough to be a serious means of transportation for goods. Most, if not all, goods are still transported by road.

Nigeria has about 27 airports most of which are seen as unviable; what would make Asaba International Airport different?
We are private sector with strict financial rules; we watch our cost daily. We also have a high commercial drive. We look for business and we think outside the box. Yet, we are still too small to make a profit. We currently just survive and hope to grow towards profitability in the next 5 years.

There are ongoing efforts by a committee constituted by federal government towards developing air cargo in Nigeria, how do you think air cargo can be improved in Nigeria?
Like I mentioned before, the role of the government is crucial. The air cargo, especially export, is still small in Nigeria. With a population of over 200 million people, you would expect a lot more air cargo, domestically and internationally. The government should assist the industry to reduce the cost for the shippers and consignees. Warehouses should be built; red tape should be reduced and initiatives should be assisted to grow; especially if they have positive impact on employment.

What business opportunities could support and be supported by the Asaba Airport which will be a strong attraction for businesses and investors?
We are currently giving access to free land, though conditions apply, for any investor that would generate either passenger traffic or cargo traffic. We have already two companies that are about to build their factories at the airport.

How would you describe Asaba Airport’s traffic so far, and how do you hope to attract more domestic and international airlines to the Airport?
Traffic is below expectations and forecast. Nigeria hasn’t recovered from the Covid crisis. While the world is experiencing massive growth in air travel, Nigeria is seeing a shrink. Airlines are struggling due to the high cost of operations and international airlines are pulling out or not growing because of the blocked funds.

What role do you think the Asaba International Airport could play in the unfolding African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), and how are you positioning the airport for this regional market?
We will have international airlines soon. We are renovating the airport and investing heavily to be ready to accommodate international flights. The SAATM is a good agreement. The Yamoussoukro agreement was good too. Agreements should not be only good on paper, but must be respected and applied. If the countries that signed SAATM respect the agreement, we will see more and cheaper flights immediately.

Where do you see Asaba International Airport in the next 5-10 years in terms of operating standards and business improvements?
We will be the best airport in Nigeria and be the third largest. We will continue investing in operational excellence, safety, security and customer service. International travellers will connect in Asaba to other domestic destinations in Nigeria and Africa. We have at least three regional carriers operating to Asaba. The airport will be operating 24hrs and will be known to be the most reliable airport.

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