Deputy General Manager Michael Smith, right, shakes hands with FAAN Managing Director Rabiu Hamisu Yadudu, an experienced pilot certified by the FAA to fly 747s and other jets. Photo: Nuel Oyebade Studios

A delegation from Nigeria’s federal aviation authority touched down at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Tuesday to take the next steps on a knowledge-sharing deal with the world’s busiest airport. 

The pact, which comprises an exchange of best practices and a push for better commercial connectivity between Atlanta and Africa’s most populous country, is the latest example of the “sister airport” agreements Hartsfield-Jackson has inked with nine countries since 2015.

Senior Deputy General Manager Michael Smith said the partnership calls for periodic working groups to establish a flow of information and insight between the airports’ technical teams, as outlined in the memorandum of understanding. 

The goal of these linkages with Nigeria and other nations is to develop the aviation sector globally and bolster countries following Atlanta’s lead in using air traffic to drive prosperity, said Mr. Smith.

He added that the airport rated as the most efficient in the world also has much to learn from its overseas partners. 

“We can talk about problems that are common to all of the airports in the industry,” Mr. Smith said, later adding: “Listening, again, to some of their issues, we can share some of our progress, so as their airports grow, we grow as well.”

When the latest agreement was signed Feb. 2, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria’s chief executive was unable to attend, but Captain Rabiu Yadudu made the trip this time thanks to a nonstop Delta Air Lines Inc. flight from Lagos. 

The longstanding route is indicative of Delta’s success from Atlanta to Africa, which has not gone unnoticed by competitors.

Mr. Yadudu, an experienced pilot certified by the FAA to fly the Boeing 747 and other jets, said Nigeria’s airport system is taking off as an economy of 200 million people continues to grow. 

“Connectivity in terms of aviation is a major enabler of social and economic progress … and we want to move from just being the most populous to being the most populous and also among the most developed,” Mr. Yadudu said. “We have a lot of potential in Nigeria. We have a big market … Now we want to make sure that we move from just potential to achievement. What you are seeing today is just another step in that direction.”

Last year, the inauguration of five new airports brought the total number of airports in the country to about 30, with more to come. (The FAAN website lists six international airports and 11 domestic, and Mr. Yadudu concedes many nodes Nigeria’s network are tiny)

“We count ourselves lucky in that having the infrastructure is the first step. Once you have the infrastructure of the airport and the facilities there, then the traffic will go through the normal process of developing the routes and the aviation business,” Mr. Yadudu told Global Atlanta. 

The Nigerian delegation, accompanied by a representative of the Consulate General of Nigeria in Atlanta, showed admiration for their hosts. 

“Any smaller airport seeing the numbers being done by this airport, you start aspiring,” Mr. Yadudu said, vowing “never to relax” as Nigeria looks to replicate the success of counterparts like Atlanta’s. The country has a lot of runway before catching up: Hartsfield-Jackson alone handled nearly 94 million passengers in 2022, compared to just over 16 million for all the airports across Nigeria.  

One acute area for collaboration in the short run is cargo; Atlanta excels in passenger traffic and captures much of the cargo that arrives in the belly of those jets, but it has had less success than some of its rivals in attracting dedicated freighters. 

The disruption of the pandemic flipped this equation a bit, and in 2021, ATL hit its cargo record of 734,771 metric tons. The total dropped 6.3 percent last year to 688,614 tons as life returned to normal and demand for air freight cooled.

Mr. Yadudu envisions air links providing more direct access to the U.S. market for Nigerian produce that is sometimes packaged and shipped out of neighboring countries. After learning that Delta is the No. 3 cargo carrier in Atlanta behind FedEx and UPS, he expressed interest in talking with the company about how to boost cargo figures on passenger flights like the one that delivered him to Atlanta. He also aims to convince the airline to restart a flight from Atlanta to Abuja, the capital of the country. 

Nigeria recently chose a new president, Bola Tinubu, who was declared the winner in an election that was criticized by observers and the opposition. Mr. Tinubu, a two-time governor of Lagos state, replaced Muhammadu Buhari, who was bound by a two-term limit.

Atlanta and the city of Lagos maintain sister-city ties. 

Hartsfield-Jackson has sister-airport agreements in Liberia; Jamaica; Tel Aviv, Israel; the Czech Republic (Prague); El Salvador; Côte d’Ivoire; Paris; Shanghai and now, Nigeria. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...