Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Someone Save Our New Airport

There are many things to love about the relatively new domestic airport in Lagos, the so-called MMA2 (Murtala Mohammed Airport 2). For me, it isn’t the large open spaces in the terminal building, the fact that there is near constant electricity to power the place, the abundance of escalators to move up and down or the departures area that gives the illusion of actually being in a modern airport.

My favourite thing is the multi-storey parking lot with the automated ticketing machines for entry and exit. Being a Lagosian with the parking problems we have, I appreciate the need for such a structure. Having been at airports and similar facilities in both the US and the UK, I know the efficiency of an automated ticketing system. The first time I used the one in at MMA2, I was almost childishly thrilled to press the button and have the machine print me out a ticket. Admittedly, I was less than thrilled that I had to go to a counter to pay at the time I was leaving. I was looking forward to being able to swipe my ATM card across the face of a scanner and getting the necessary amount deducted from my account. Of course, the standard process that InterSwitch uses would have required that I also enter my PIN and that is not exactly the smoothest way to move through a toll point. While there is nothing wrong with there being a keypad provided for that, it isn’t the only option. There are ways around this of course. For the frequenter of the airport parking lot, there could be pre-paid cards that can be swiped across the scanner and deducts the necessary amount from the card or even better, a wireless system that does knows your credit situation before you even reach the barrier. Then there are various mobile phone based solutions.

Of course, the solution I encountered – manual payments – do work and are still in use in car parks in developed parts of the world. Just like in those societies, at MMA2 you get a payment receipt that also has a barcode that you swiped across the scanner on your way out.

At least that was the way it was. During my last 2 or 3 visits to MMA2, spread over about 3 or 4 months the automated system hasn’t been working. There has been an attendant who writes out a ticket then raises the barrier. This is terribly inefficient, open to human error and abuse, and a waste of technology infrastructure. Maybe the system is broken down, maybe the electricity problems that plague the whole nation is bedevilling the airport. Maybe they ran out of printer paper. Either way something that should basically be humming along by itself with minimal human involvement other than maintenance isn’t working. That spells trouble for the entire airport infrastructure.

Unfortunately, it is not an uncommon story in our fair nation. It is a quite common story and much ink and keyboard presses have been been generated on the subject. My voice is just one of the groundswell of discontent. Still the ink should be spent and the bits must fly across the internet. Today, it is the ticketing system at the car park. Tomorrow it is the lift, then the escalators, then the luggage carousels (or whatever those things are called), and the security systems and whatever aircraft management mechanisms are planned or in place will follow.

So, this is calling on the Lagos State government, FAAN, the various banks and corporate organisations who are invested in the airport or whose multi-storey adverts adorn the walls of MMA2. Put maintenance systems in place. Put accountability systems in place to watch over the maintenance systems. Hire whoever needs to be hired. Fire whoever needs to be fired. Arrest whoever needs to be arrested. Before we spend multiplied billions to build a new airport at Epe, let’s keep the one we already have working at peak efficiency, let it be an institution that we can be proud of.
Someone, save our airport.