Rivers State: The Making of Aviation Regional Hub
By Robinson Tombari Sibe
When Airfrance announced their pulling out, it was a sad news for most of us who prefer traveling through Port Harcourt International Airport than the busy Murtala Mohammed International Airport. It is therefore commendable that within the short period, the Rivers State Government has been able to attract two good airlines – Turkish Air and hopefully, Ethiopian Airlines. Good.
However, the state government must not stop at this point; Rivers State is far from achieving its potentials in the aviation sector as a key player in the region. The state is pivotal to air travel for the South-South and South-East region, therefore, deliberate efforts should be made to transform the airport to become a key regional hub. Suffice to say, these two region bears the economic structure of Nigeria; whereas the the South-South is the nerve centre for oil and gas industry, the South-East is the commercial and business centre for commodity goods.
The government should urgently address some key areas to attract more airlines to the Port Harcourt Airport as a preferred entry and exit point to air users in these strategic regions.
Security is a key consideration for every investment. Investors are not coming to be heroes, by helping you fight insecurity. They just want a safe place to do business. All stakeholders – Federal, State, LGA, and Citizenry – should work together to improve security.
The PH International Airport is strategically located, and could potentially serve the 5 South-Eastern States and at least 4 South-South States (Ondo and Edo would naturally prefer flying from Lagos for obvious reasons). To achieve this potential as a regional aviation hub, you’ve got to position yourself for that. It takes deliberate steps, some of which are outlined below.
The Rivers State government should fast track the implementation of the Greater Port Harcourt Development Master Plan, thus bringing sanity and development to the airport axis. No one likes to land in the waiting arms of chaos and unarrested development area.
The need to fix the Airport Hotel, and hand it over to a world-Class Hotel franchise for proper use and maintenance cannot be overemphasized. The hotel was a beauty while it lasted. Its decent rooms, olympic-size swimming pool, in-house club and cinema, golf course at the back are a delightful experience. If fixed, the airline crew would prefer the 5-minutes ride to the hotel, than the tortuous route to the hotels in GRA. While travellers coming in or transiting to neighbouring states could spend the night there en-route their respective destination.
Also, the government should continue its engagements with more airlines especially, target ”tier-2” airlines that can take quick investment decisions. Target routes that are frequently flown by residents in the region such as Dubai, South Africa, Ghana, and China. Key airlines should be reached out to such as Airpeace, South African Airways, Rwandair, Emirates, Kenya Airways, Royal Air Maroc to increase their flight frequent. Our Igbo brothers and other neighbors would prefer to use this airport than the Lagos airports if there are airlines plying these routes.
It is important to have a strong presence and team at strategic aviation shows, marketing the city and the airport as an attractive spot. This will take specialized creativity, this calls for the government to engage reputable firms to develop marketing strategies and effective implement them. This can be done through effective branding and Strategic communication of the state.
Apart from the marketing initiatives, government should urgently set up incentives for airlines to site (or move) their head offices to Port Harcourt, this will earn you more taxes from PAYE another viable source of revenue for the state. Government can propose tax holidays, subsidize unused seats for the first one year of operation, discounted rates at the PH Airport Hotel, a one-stop state desk at the airport where you can ask all the business related questions, process your papers (permits, taxes, C-of-O requirements, etc) and other steps to enhance ease of doing business.
Making deliberate efforts to beautify the roads is essential. Government can engage the private sector to be part of this initiatives and take up strategic areas within the airport areas to build. The Tam-David West Boulevard should be made a proper boulevard by planting trees on both sides of the road. This can apply to other major roads in the city thus giving the state a facelift. Bring out the garden in the city! This is Port Harcourt!
The state government needs to work with the Federal authorities to achieve its objections. By our laws, they regulate the industry and own the airports. Fortunately, the current Aviation Minister is a professional, and by his disposition, he looks like someone that can synergize and cooperate to broker a strategic planning on in making Rivers State a regional aviation hub!