Asaba, the capital city of Delta State in Nigeria, is ready to receive international flights again after the Nigerian Government gave it the tick of approval. According to a report in CH-Aviation, the Government has fast-tracked this approval. Hadi Sirika, Nigeria’s Aviation Minister is reported as saying the airport met “requirements” and that the Government did not want to wait any longer.
Asaba is located nearly 500 kilometres due east of Lagos. A census held 13 years ago put the local population at about half a million people. Whilst Asaba has long had an airport, it was previously a ramshackle affair and most locals used Benin City. The ‘new’ airport was rebuilt between 2008 and 2011 by the state government.
While the idea of the airport was fine – connecting Asaba locals to wider Nigeria and the world, it was also very much a vanity project. And like so many infrastructure projects, the building process was torturous. Once some initial flights began in 2011, Delta State Governor was reported in FlashPoint saying;
“I am so happy with this achievement. My dream has come true and all those who criticized the project will now shut up their mouth”.
Perhaps some things got mangled in translation, but you get the point.
A difficult time for Asaba Airport
The first customer at Asaba Airport was Overland Airlines. Commercial flights commenced from Asaba in July 2011. At the time, Delta State’s Commissioner for Information, Mr. Christopher Ogeah said;
“Overland Airline is going to be the premier operator of this airport at the beginning and I can assure you that other Nigerian indigenous airlines are also going to join them and make this a lucrative route for the airlines.”
It didn’t quite work out that way. Reportedly, by 2013, Asaba Airport was doing steady business. The Delta State Government was quoted as saying the airport was handling on average 260 flights a month and 6,880 passengers a month. At the time, both Overland Airlines and Arik Airlines linked Asaba with Lagos and Abuja.
But in 2015, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority stepped in and downgraded the airport’s capacity. According to The Guardian, the rundown runway, taxiways, lack of perimeter fence and poor personnel training meant larger jets like 737s could no longer use the airport, limiting scheduled passenger services to Overland Airlines’ ATR72s.
Restoration work at the airport
In 2016, work commenced on restoring the runway to a decent condition. Turboprop flights were able to keep operating for most of the time the work took place. The runway is 3.4 kilometres, theoretically able to take a 747. Like regional Governments everywhere, the Delta State Government had big ambitions for their airport.
Now the Nigerian Government is satisfied, the airport is able to safely get back to business and land jet aircraft. Whether the airport attracts any international services beyond ad hoc charters and publicity flights is another matter.
EgyptAir had a short-lived service between Asaba and Cairo but that appears to have been discontinued in March 2019. The primary customers now appear to be Aero Contractors and Air Peace who fly to Lagos and Abuja. Overland no longer flys in.
It has been a tempestuous short life for Asaba International Airport, but Africa is in dire need of good aviation infrastructure. Issues with funding, governance, and management have held Asaba back. If these issues can be sorted, Asaba International has half a chance of developing into a decent airport.