By Chinedu Eze

A former Director of Engineering Services with the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mohammed Sadiq (FNSE) has said the nation’s airports are capable of operating without capital from government while contributing revenues to government coffers.

 Sadiq said FAAN generates over N33 billion annually and could contribute 25 percent of this to the federal government if the right policies are put in place.

 He also said the FAAN could pay off the loan secured from China, which is being used to fund the new terminals under construction at the nation’s major airports because the loans were secured at a very low interest rate of 2per cent and payable over 22 years.

 Sadiq said: “It is this economic viability of our airport system that the economic terrorists are targeting by advocating privatisation of the only viable international airports to the detriment of the overall development of the other airports and by extension the development of the country.”

 Comparing with revenue data from the US airports, Sadiq noted that the busiest airport in the world, Hartfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta, Georgia had an annual turnover of $24 billion, which is equivalent to about N7.2 trillion; more than the N6 trillion Naira budget of Nigeria,

He identified the advantages government ownership of airports has over being run by private organisations and they include safety and security of the entire nation.

He also identified infrastructural development, national development, financial contribution to the Treasury Single Account (TSA), adding that the takeover of these airports would lead to loss of experienced personnel, and expressed amazement at the level of greed, which he attributed to the quest for the concession of the airports.

“All airports are considered as boarders of the host country. So they are security posts. The entire security of the nation can be compromised if the airports are in private hands. Setting up a government security apparatus to oversee the security cannot solve the problems because the private airport operator can create avenues to circumvent security in the transportation of arms and ammunitions, drugs, fake currency and other dangerous goods.

“The government will then need the cooperation of the operator of the airport to securely manage the whole airport infra-structure. But with the present government ownership and FAAN management of airports such nefarious activities cannot be entertained. This is one of the reasons why FAAN should be strengthened to run the airports in a profitable manner and then pay a large percentage of their earnings to the federal government through the TSA,” he said.

 Explaining how government ownership can boost infrastructural development, Sadiq said the private operators of airports are only interested in milking the system and leaving it dry and fallow at the end of the day.

 “These so-called private operators only concentrate their attention on the terminal buildings. They don’t contribute to the maintenance of the airports’ most critical safety infrastructures namely the runway, taxiway, apron, navigational aids, airport ground lighting system, fire and safety service, airport perimeter fencing and the general maintenance of the airside.”

“FAAN has been in the business of airport management and operation since 1976 initially as NAA (Nigerian Airports Authority). FAAN has therefore gathered valuable experience over the `past 40 years that no other group or organisation in Nigeria can match. Areas of weakness that have been identified such as overstaffing, top heaviness of the organisation etc are externally imposed and can be corrected to improve the efficiency of the organisation,” Sadiq said.

On national development he said FAAN has been operating the Nigeria’s single airport system by cross-subsidising the smaller airports that cannot break even on their own from the revenue generated by the bigger airports.