RABIU HAMISU YADUDU, managing director, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), as Nigeria’s chief airports officer knows that securing the airports under his watch is a top priority. But he also has to deal with the fact that airport facilities are obsolete and need overhauling. In this interactive session at the Lagos airport with aviation journalists, including SADE WILLIAMS, Business A.M.’s associate, YADUDU speaks on what FAAN has done and plans to do to curb insecurity at airports; how it is coping with overhauling obsolete facilities, among other matters. Excerpts
What’s your response to the agitation for Nigerian airports to operate 24 hours service?
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) wants all airports to operate 24/7 days a week because it is a business for FAAN. We earn our revenue from those operations; we are a service delivery agency, but the challenge is will the 24/7 pay for itself? Somebody has to pay for the 24/7 operations. Will the business pay for itself? 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 from sunrise to sunset. You can operate an airport even from sunrise to midday, so that everybody that knows should go around that window.
FAAN cannot operate an airport that we can’t break even with, because we are already challenged. We want a 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 the business model to sustain 24/7 operations. I cannot commit to 24/7 operations when you are not coming.
One airline told us that they wanted 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 there, but FAAN, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and others, will have to mobilise personnel, ensure efficiency and fix facilities that can be moved 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 break even when we do that. Who will nurture the airports for sustainability? They can be sustained, but who will pay for those periods?
What are you doing and putting in place to deal with insecurity at the airports across the country?
We have resolved the security issue and the manifestation is on ground. On that singular incident of a mangled body found on the runway, there is still an investigation 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 are necessary and 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, identify them and before you can ensure a 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 went to Munich, Germany by the end of 2018 or so, identified the company, they came to do lead assessment twice; marking and survey. They gave us the estimate for visual and thermal infrared cameras – visuals to cover the areas for a whole day – sunrise to sunset and thermal from sunset to early morning. If a rabbit is walking within an 8km radius, which is 16km diameter, they will pinpoint it. 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 Captain Hadi Sirika, the minister of aviation, was very supportive. As of now, the procurement has been concluded and Mr. President approved it last year, part-payment has already been made to the manufacturer. The Chief of Staff and myself, we went to the factory to ensure that what we are buying is what we are getting. We were there last November. The delivery will happen within the next one or two months and then installation follows. This is fully automated; it will be spanning 360 degrees. We already know the solutions to all the challenges we are going through, the minister knows and even Mr. President knows, too.
In the meantime, we already set up the manual patrol; the military is going around the airport facilities for improved security. This automation is not just in Lagos, but it includes Abuja airport. We also bought two motorised 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.
The Jet A1 crisis has hit airlines hard, what are your thoughts on it?
We really sympathise with the airlines on the scarcity of Jet A1. If anything affects the airlines it will affect FAAN and every other thing or organisation in the industry. 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. Your revenue will drop. We are working actively with the airlines with Capt. Musa Nuhu, the director general of NCAA (Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority) and I can tell you that there is a lot of positive action from the government.
How would you assess the RESA Airport Data System?
RESA is a very good company. RESA and SITA are the biggest two in the world. Most of Europe is RESA and SITA and most of the USA is SITA because it is an American Company, but SITA was giving us only two airports and we went and negotiated an agreement with RESA that covers the five airports. So, instead of covering two for 10 years, now, we are covering five international airports. We now have a larger number of checks-in systems delivered to the airports. There is a departure control system all in this one and others.
Most importantly, the technology we have with SITA was the Common Users Terminal Equipment (CUTE) and it was replaced sometime in 2009 with Common User Passenger Processing System (CUPPS). FAAN needs to modernise. So, we went for a newer technology and that is what RESA is offering us. This particular RESA system also has a function on revenue automation and it is the latest one being adopted by the whole world and that is what Nigeria has now.
The new terminal was commissioned in March 2022, but over two months later, some of the operating airlines are still reluctant to relocate their operations to it, why the reluctance?
The terminal is open. When you commission a new terminal, you have to do an operational transfer before you can move. 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 some teething challenges. 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.
The relocation is in phases. 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 others 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 congestion in the morning and evening will be reduced. 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 client and dictate to us. When the time comes, they must all move. Those that refuse to move want to paint us in a 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 of national interest and unfortunately, Nigerians are joining them to condemn the industry.
What are the challenges confronting the operations of FAAN?
Some of the equipment we have are ageing. Some of them are even 40 years and above. As the current management in FAAN, we want to make sure that anybody who comes as the next managing director of FAAN, we want to make their job easier. We are going out of our way to make sure we do our own. Now, we are fixing the 18L. You cannot land on 18L at night; now the contractor is back. He was supposed to finish in March, but the cables he had were of low qualities and we are insisting on original ones. So, he said he will fix it by June or 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, the central cooling system and others.
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.
It is three years since you were appointed. How would you assess your three years in office?
Within the last three years, we have embarked on major repairs of ageing equipment and components. I gave you an example in Lagos; abandoned runway and airfield lighting. Also, the key elements at MMA and any other airports that were old, but now, we are replacing them. Some were last replaced in either 1980 or 1985. Now, we are replacing them. It is only the air-conditioning system that we have not yet procured, but we are processing it and the airfield lighting, but all other basic ones –disable aircraft, baggage handling and other basic ones that the people see every day, we have started with them. The avio bridges, we have started with them and that is in terms of infrastructure.
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 on Akure, Borno, Sokoto airports and next year, we will work on Port Harcourt, Benin and Yola. We don’t have all the money to fix all the problems at once, but we will do the entire airports gradually. So, when I leave here, those coming after me will be making use of them.
What is the plan regarding decentralisation of FAAN’s operations?
We intend to decentralise essential operations and also the management of FAAN. A lot of things are concentrated around the headquarters and you cannot be macro-managing from the headquarters to all other airports. The headquarters will be doing a lot. From the first day I assumed office, I told them we will be decentralising 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 (KPIs). 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 know those who are messing it up and we won’t wait till the end of the year before we take action.
Even for the welfare of our staff, we will decentralise it and the managers [will be] responsible. We will also ensure accountability. 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 five regions will get the scholarship and FAAN will make sure we fund their university education.
The decentralisation shows the management is not ready to hold on to power. Like I said earlier, we are working on the local runway. What is the essence of having two runways if we cannot use them? I believe if not for the cables he brought, we will have installed it in March.