By Chinelo Obogo, [email protected]
Many domestic airline operators have often complained that the lack of 24 hours operations in some of the nation’s airports is hampering their profitability and growth. The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), has been advocating that more airports be upgraded to have airfield lightenings that would ensure that airlines can land at any time of the day.
Though some airports like Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu, Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar and Benin airport have night facilities installed including airfield lightings, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has not allowed flights to operate there at night.
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Managing Director of FAAN, Capt. Rabiu Yadudu, told aviation reporters recently that even though the agency would want all airports to operate 24 hours a day, the challenge of cost of operation could make the idea a bit difficult. He explained that if an airport with only three daily landings per day opens for 24 hours, the cost on the agency will be uneconomical . He also spoke on other challenges facing the aviation industry.
24 hours operations at airports
Naturally, FAAN wants all airports to operate 24 hours daily because we earn our revenue from such operations but the challenge is the profitability of the exercise.
Somebody has to pay for the 24 hours operations. If we open an airport with just only three landings, FAAN will close down. No organisation in the world will do that. Even, if you go to Europe, you will find out that many airports are sunrise to sunset. You can operate an airport even for sunrise to midday so that everybody that knows should go around that window.
We want 24/7 days airport, but we need to know if the business will be sustainable. At first, some of the businesses may look as if they are sustainable even for the next two years. So, somebody must be ready to have a business model to sustain 24/7 operations. I cannot commit to 24/7 operations when you are not coming with a business model that is sustainable.
One airline came to us that they wanted to operate 24/7 operations to Yola and wanted FAAN to extend the time for them, but I told them that we will need a lot of money to do that. An airline may decide to open a route today and dispatch just one aircraft, but for FAAN and other agencies, we will have to mobilise personnel, ensure efficiency and fix facilities that can be move in and out.
Sometimes, fuelers and handlers will be needed. We don’t want a situation whereby an airline will start a route now and in the next few months, it will stop due to lack of passengers. Then, who will pay for all we have gone through?
FAAN is a business; we pay our salaries, wages and we have to be sure that we will breakeven when we do that. Who will nurture the airports for sustainability they can be sustained, but who will pay for those periods?
We have resolved the security issues and the manifestation is on ground. On that singular incident, investigation is ongoing, but we can’t make any public statement until the result of the investigation is out. There are a lot of theories on it. I won’t dwell much on this until the report of the investigation is out.
However, government processes and due process, which are necessary also matter in all we do. A private airport can have a problem today and by tomorrow, it can deploy the solutions to it. We know the solutions to the problems we have, but we have to ensure that the due processes are followed for us to implement them.
Additional issues arise when you have to bring the equipment from abroad; there is manufacturing, shipping and others. Some things you can know them, identify them and before you can ensure solution, it may take you up to a year. I was a Director of Operations in FAAN when we realised there is the need for total surveillance for the whole airport. I want to Munich, Germany by the end of 2018, identified the company and they came to do lead assessment twice; marking and survey. They gave us the estimate for visual and thermal infrared cameras. If a rabbit is walking within 8km radius, which is 16km diameter, they will pinpoint it. We got that camera and at the whole airport, I don’t think you will get that 16 as a diameter. The runway is 3.7km or 3.8km and we are buying about four of those cameras to cover the airfield.
We started procurement and the minister was very supportive. As of now, the procurement has been concluded and President Muhammadu Buhari approved it last year, part payment has already been made to the manufacturer and the Chief of Staff and myself went to the factory to ensure that what we are buying is what we are getting. We were there in November and te delivery will happen within the next one or two months and then installation follows. This is fully automated; it will be spanning 360 degrees.
This automation is not just in Lagos, but it includes Abuja airport. We also bought two motorized equipment. If you have any security challenges at any airport, we will drive it there and deploy it. Inside the vehicle, we have three screens that we can use to monitor and protect the airports. But in the meantime, we already set up the manual patrol; the military is going around the airport facilities for improved security.
Cost of aviation fuel
We really sympathise with the airline on the scarcity of aviation fuel because if anything affects them, it will affect FAAN and every other organisation. They are struggling to remain in business and people say they should increase prices. Some of these things are easier said than done, but you have to understand that the whole of aviation is all about enabling the economy. You cannot just be increasing prices arbitrarily, if you do so, your revenue will drop.
The new international terminal is open and we decided to start moving in phases. We didn’t want everyone to move at the same time. If you remember, when Terminal 5 opened in London, it took others about six months because of teething problems. It is only here that people complain. Nowhere in the world that you have a perfect system. No airport operates in isolation of its environment. Aviation industry keeps evolving when the challenges happen and are tackled immediately. No airport system will say you want to relocate to a new terminal and you want to remove everybody, you will crash. So, we sent two airlines and other ones will follow.
I told them to move the airlines that operate morning and afternoon flights so that we will decongest the old terminal. So that the morning will be reduced and the evening. It is unfortunate that some of them said they will not move, but we are not ready to compel them to move. We just keep quiet. You cannot be a FAAN stakeholder and dictate to us. When the time comes, they must all move. Those that refused to move, want to paint us in bad light that we don’t have a good terminal, which is not true.
You were complaining of the bad facilities and the baggage handling, now, we provided you with a new one, yet, you refused to move. The whole of aviation in the world is national interest and unfortunately, Nigerians are joining them to condemn the industry.
Some of the equipment we have include ageing equipment. Some of them are even 40 years and above. As the current management in FAAN, we want to make sure that the job of anybody who comes as the next managing director would be easier. Now, we are fixing the 18L because you cannot land on 18L at night. The contractor is back. He was supposed to finish in March, but the cables he had were of low quality and we are insisting on original ones. So, he said he will fix it by June or latest July. So, after nine years, we are fixing some of these things that were abandoned and we are also starting new ones, including baggage handling and the central cooling system.
We contacted the airfield lighting company in Europe to fix the new ones, overhaul the whole airfield lighting system, there was no overhaul in 42 years. That is also in the process. We are fixing things so that those that come after us will get things easier.
We have done major repairs of ageing equipment and components. Also, the key elements at MMA and some other airports are being replaced. Some were last replaced in either 1980 or 1985. It is only the air-conditioning system that we have not yet procured, but we are processing it.
We set up a committee last year because we saw that most of the facilities are aged. These equipment were supposed to be replaced every 15 years, but some have gone 25 to 30 years. So, we have a committee that is working and they are almost completing it. They gave us the state of the equipment for all the airports so that we can make use of it, work with the ministry and use it to know their status so that we can plan.
This year, we will work in Akure, Borno, Sokoto and next year, we will work in Port Harcourt, Benin and Yola. We don’t have all the money to fix all, but we will do the entire airports gradually. So, when I leave here, those coming after me will be making use of it.
Decentralisation of operations
We intend to decentralise essential operations and each airport will be responsible for itself, but we will monitor and do surveillance of the facilities. I think in the next two weeks, we will start it. We have used the last two years doing the planning and now, we have developed the Key Performance Indexes (KPI). About 90 or 100 items are in all these. With this, the issue of laxity in the system can be checkmated. This will make us to know those who are messing it up and we won’t wait till the end of the year before we take an action.
Even, the welfare of our staff, we will decentralised. If your manager is messing up, it is easier for you to know. Also, we have started the scholarship exercise for all our staff and the best five students in each region will get the scholarship and FAAN will make sure we fund their university education.
National aviation conference
FAAN decided to arrange and implement a national aviation summit in the interest of the Nigerian aviation industry. It is called FAAN National Aviation Conference (FNAC) because FAAN is funding it 100 per cent. We are doing it as a form of national service for the whole industry.
It is from FAAN to all the agencies, airport stakeholders, passenger organisations, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), the media, labour unions, ACI, ICAO, embassies, state governments across Nigerians and other interested organisations. There will be lectures and presentations by the industry stakeholders on their key concerns. At the beginning, FAAN was trying to develop topics for the participants, but we agreed later that participants should present papers on critical issues they want to bring to the industry. This included all the aviation agencies. Also, the airlines will present papers on their most critical areas of concerns. The event will be annually and the major substance is to promote collaboration and cooperation towards the development of the industry and all stakeholders.
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