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We are tackling aviation industry challenges headlong- FAAN MD

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Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, Capt. Rabiu Hamisu Yadudu has outlined steps the agency is taking to address challenges in the aviation industry. In an interview,he spoke with aviation correspondent, Suleiman Idris.

 

 The country’s aviation industry no doubt is currently face with multiple challenges that What concrete steps have been taken towards the creation of a hub at the airports, especially Lagos Airport as well as the planned connection of the international and local airports to ease passenger facilitation?

 

The issue of the hubs for Lagos Airport is something we have been working on for a very long time and it is long overdue. As of now, government is driving it aggressively through FAAN. By aggressively, I mean we have already gone far in processing for the company that can do it. We are working with the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) and we have already got our designs and we are going through selection for the designs. We are at the active procurement stage; we have gone to the stage of going to the BPE.

 

We are working with the Lagos State Government and our own engineers to develop a rail system that will connect the old international and the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) at the Lagos Airport with the new international terminal. This is to ease passenger facilitation. You cannot have a hub airport whereby there is no connectivity that is either direct or indirect between the two terminals, especially considering that passengers need to transit. And of course, there are lots of baggages that need to be moved from one terminal to the other.

 

We had a very robust master plan for this airport, but along the way, over the years, we had challenges that made it practically, very difficult for this connection to take place. But, as for now, we are working on it, through the establishment of a rail system and of course working with the airlines to see what we can do to establish their own connectivity for their passengers’ baggage and other belongings with other terminals. It is being processed, but we have not reached BPE yet. I believe we will have it ready between now and the end of the year.

 

We are working in full collaboration with the Lagos State government, considering their work in connecting most of state with Ikeja bus stop and we are working to see what we can do to see that we achieve integration so that between Ikeja bus stop, there will be a connecting bridge that will link with the airport, near that National filling station. We are actively working on it and I believe in the next four to five months, we shall see it on ground.

 

There is also a security reason we really want to make it an up station. There is demand and there are lots of passengers coming. Recently, you saw Ethiopian Airlines, which has started flying from Lomé to the United States. It is all because of Lagos. How many passengers are there in Lomé? There is a huge potential that Nigeria and Nigerians are not taking. So, they are operating Lomé to the USA because there are lots of passengers. I think they operate about three or four flights out of Lagos and out of Abuja. And they are feeding Lomé to fly to the USA all because of the inconveniences in facilitation in Lagos. So, this new initiative, if we can connect through the rail, which has the potential of carrying larger number of passengers, it is much easier than buses. And then the shuttling of the baggage It will be much easier for all of us.

 

Haw far has the planned relocation of the control and fire towers at the Abuja Airport gone?

 

It is something that is an operation consideration. Right now, we wanted to move it, then, the pressure of the second runway in Abuja came up. It has already been approved by Mr. President. There is a plan and design to construct a second tower on the other side near the second runway. So, we consider it nice to have two towers for efficiency.

 

We are already relocating the current one along this side and we have the main one, which might be the permanent one at the location of the new runway. Now, when we have both, at the implementation stage, we will see whether it will be possible to maybe have one that will be the master tower or the only one. At this stage, the second one has not yet been constructed but we are looking at the two. We will maintain this one and that one.

 

But once it is coming, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) will look at it and see what we can do, either to integrate both or to nullify one and have one standing. The key consideration is the connectivity in terms of ground movement and the line of site so that the tower can see all the ground activities going on at the airport. These are the main factors that determine whether it is possible or not. As much as we have so many things on paper, and in the design, it is when they are constructed that we can actually know, from the point of view of direct evidence and determine whether we maintain one or use the two.

 

Remember, in many airports, you can have even the two. It depends on the scope of activities each one is controlling. We can have one doing most of the airspace and maybe some of the ground control and then the other one doing most of the control near its own vicinity. In many airports, you can get two frequencies.

 

In terms of fire station, we are trying to do another fire station on the side of the GAT. It is pretty much work in progress and we are working actively with NAMA and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) because anything that has to do with fire and control tower is not an exclusive FAAN preserve. It involves these three agencies. Right now, we are working on the two. But, along the way, practical challenges will come up that will sway us to one particular decision in place of the other one. So, we have two now. But, what happens with the two; how they communicate and control the airspace and ground movement will be determined as it is progressing and becoming active.

What are the challenges of revamping the underground car park at the international wing of the Murtala Muhammad Airport?

 

We started working to revamp the underground car park two years ago. I believe it is done slowly because there are challenges. And you know it is not entirely empty. There are some equipment kept in that place. Even, if we revamp it, I don’t think we will start using it. Before they will start using it, we have to make sure that we resolve all the security challenges first.

 

Even, if we resolve them, we have to be sure that government will support us because there is another feature of security challenges across Nigeria. In a situation like that, any little thing can result in the whole airport imploding. So, it will only take somebody with the wrong intention to make the whole airport collapse below itself. That is why we have cleaned all the pool of water that is collecting under. But, utilisation might not be in the near future. We have to make sure we coordinate the security and maybe get the buy-in. We do an assessment to see if we have the security cover. Is it really needed and worth it, considering the risks? It will take only 0.01% of lapse for someone to actually undermine the whole airport. That is our primary challenge on that.

 

Why are there conflicting statistics of traffic at the airports and why is the data not displayed on FAAN website?

 

Statistics usually have challenges. Like I can say in Nigeria, ours is maybe a little beyond the tolerance value. You always have small differences with statistics. We have meetings for the harmonisation of data across all the agencies. So it is the harmonised data that we use officially. The only delay is that we cannot have current data as it is being generated. We need to have it concluded, sit down and do the harmonisation before it becomes official. As it is now, whatever you get from NAMA, FAAN is just like raw data. Harmonisation takes away most of the inefficiencies. And I think it is because most of the data and statistics are not fully automated.

 

The ADR16 used by NAMA is not an automated system. It is hand written. But we had a meeting earlier this year at the office of the permanent secretary; I with the managing director of NAMA and our plan are to expedite full automation of data generation and collection so that we can manage it well. And it becomes a veritable data.

 

And towards that, I think SITA is working with NAMA to implement an arrival manager depart manager (AMDM) system that will now be fully automated. When traffic is coming in and going out, it will capture it and disseminate directly to FAAN and NCAA. Until that one is fully implemented, we still have to continue with the semi automated radial system. It is important.

 

Additionally, the managing director of NAMA also mentioned that they are also automating the Aeronautic Information Service (AIS) fully. When we have AIS fully automated, it is even bigger and more encompassing than the AMDM. But, the AMDM will come first; when they fully automate AIS, then any critical stakeholder such as security agencies, Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA), Department of State Services (DSS) can get it. We are taking it in phases.

 

There is work already going on to implement the AMDM. However, the final solution will be that of AIS and it can work with the AMDM that we will integrate. So there is active work to automate data collection and generation in Nigeria.

 

ICAO recommends that revenue generated from the aviation sector should be ploughed back into the system. How has FAAN’s contribution of 25% of its IGR to the federation account affected its operations?

 

It is the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) mantra and it is a very important one because our margins are very minimal. But, we are government agency and most governments don’t understand that the margins are very skeletal in this industry, especially as FAAN has not built any airport. It is the Federal Government that built the airport and asked FAAN to manage them. So, it is not that it is our airport. It is our airport by virtue of being the manager, developer and overseer for the government. So, we are working actively now to make sure that while we remain managers and developers, we enlighten government on the importance of abiding by the rules of aviation.

 

Even though there are margins, it is used to keep on developing the industry. It is capital intensive. If I have N1 million expenditure today in aviation, it can go up to N1.1 million by one month. In aviation, you must modernise; you must protect yourself and you must buy the technology or the equipment. That is why every five years, the cost of operations in FAAN increases very significantly. This includes new security equipment, new procedures, new processes; new training and you must train everybody.

 

The 25% is a lot. We are just trying to come out of Covid-19. Our traffic level is maybe about 60% and then 25% is taken out. And consider that our revenue generated, the collection is not up to 100%. If you are generating only 70 or 80 because of the current situation…if you insist some stakeholders will collapse. So, we balance our responsibility to collect with our responsibility to enhance the economy.

 

That is why you see our collection is not very high. People always say why don’t you do it aggressively and they fail to understand the balancing side. So, FAAN has to be very wise in terms of managing all stakeholders. And that is why our collection is not that high. And even though it is not that high, we still get that 25% taken off.  We are working very closely with our ministry and both the Senate and the House of Representatives have shown a lot of understanding.

 

What is the update on AVSEC bearing arms?

 

On the arms procurement, it is already ongoing. It has been approved by the government. Most of the money paid. The equipment, I even went on an inspection for the armory.

 

Now, the place we are going to keep the arms. We are just busy trying to pay for the actual arms, but the armoury, the shooting range are all done, which means we are not going back. Mr. President has approved, which means we are on course. Training has started. So, once we start taking delivery of the actual arms, apart from the equipment and accessories that have already been delivered, we will let you know. I will even let you have small inspection to see for yourself.

 

We need to arm ourselves so that we can protect the airports and protect the stakeholders. There is need for you to have responsibility and there is need for you to be properly armed to discharge that responsibility.

 

If you are having a responsibility and you are looking for someone to arm you, if they don’t share your values, nobody will support you to do it. And that is what is being faced by AVSEC now. Anytime, we need the support of other agencies, we have to start begging. And they can cooperate for a week, and they get tired and go away. If it is we doing our own thing, we might not need anybody. We can do all the training and that is why we have our own armoury. We have our own shooting range where we will be practising.

 

Stakeholders feel that if the Federal Government is serious with concession, they should start with smaller airports so that investors can bring in their resources. What are your thoughts on this?

 

We are not selling it, but just to improve it, make it bigger, better and more comfortable. Generate more revenue and then after you recoup your money and profits, you give it back to us. Many companies have been sold in Nigeria; I didn’t see this kind of attention. Because suddenly, the government will wake up and say they have already sold this, people will talk for a week and it is finished. But, this government came and said they want to concession and they tried to engage everybody.

 

And the biggest advantage is that among the criteria to beat is that you must be a renowned airport terminal operator in the world, which means that they are not trying to give to their friends. That is why you see that the ones bidding are the Manchester Airport, Heathrow, Istanbul airports. Who do you have in the world that is more qualified than these ones?

 

The 1979 equipment have not been replaced. Look at the terminal when will the government have money to do it? And when the government has the money, the expertise relies on those places and they don’t have the time to go through government procedure because by the time they finish, they have changed government who will release the money.

 

Now government has said let’s give it to foreigners that qualify, it should be a big plus, a commendable act by the government. And now the government says show us your track record; you can bid and among the best ones that bid, you will get it. Which other transparency do you prefer? So, there is commitment. This is something that you can see and it is aimed at improving Nigerians and foreigners’ experience at our airports. This is because the airport will be fully managed by maybe Dubai Airport. All the things I spend one month to buy, they can buy it in one minute. No procurement process. All the things I need to go and start sourcing for contacts, they will just make a phone call and they will get it.

 

But, for some reasons, maybe lack of understanding and those that understand deliberately paint it black for political reasons. If the airports are looking like that of Dubai and London, do you think any government will come and say they want to concession it? And the whole process is driven by the ministry with full support and collaboration of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC).

 

I saw statistics that showed that 40% of airports that are big are the ones concessioned. But those 40% control almost 60 or 80% of the whole business, which means it is the biggest ones that are doing it. In terms of number it’s only 40% but they have 80% of the whole world. So, when you want to think big, think about it because somebody will come and put his money and knowledge to invest.

 

Qatar Airport built a new terminal and they concessioned it. Are you saying they are poor? They are richer than Dubai. So concession is not about being poor. It is about trying to get efficiency. The smaller airports you are talking about, if you read between the lines, you will see why these smaller airports will not be good candidates. And if you make them candidates, nobody will go for them because anybody in concession wants to see a place where he can come, plant and harvest.

 

You could give Gombe, Jos and Dutse, even Akure, but mind you, some of these airports have 100 passengers in a year. Who will then come and spend $10 million and the whole profit is maybe N20, 000 in a whole year? This is because whether the airport is small or big, you must have the compliments of all the personnel – screening machines, equipment, power, airfield maintenance.

 

That is why the State governments are handing over their airports to Federal Government and FAAN. You spend N200 or N300 million per month, and you don’t generate N1 million.

 

They (investors) want to come to Lagos and Abuja because they are sure they will put in and the traffic numbers will pay them back. Even Kano and Port Harcourt, let me tell the truth, most of them say they just want Lagos and Abuja. It is the government that is telling them that you must add more.

 

The only airports that are highly marketable are Abuja and Lagos. For Port Harcourt and Kano, to us we are trying to award them. We have airports doing 80 million passengers per annum. It is only Lagos that is doing only about 8 million passengers per annum. Even Lagos doesn’t comply with the rest of the world but to us, it is huge. So, they want to come and do Lagos.

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