Saleh Dunoma, Managing Director of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, speaks with Chinedu Eze on the Airport Council International meeting, which FAAN is billed to host next month. He says the one week conference and exhibition will bring together airport managers from across the world to discuss issues bordering on the sustainability of airports and improvement in passenger traffic within the region. Excerpts
What are the major issues that will be discussed at the conference?
The theme of the conference is, “Business Transformation for Sustainable Development of African Airports.” The meeting will hold from April 14 to 20 at Oriental Hotel, Lagos. What we want to do is to look at how we can make our airports commercially viable in order to sustain our operations. Before this time, you will recall that most African airports were developed by government and they are not commercial oriented. Even in Nigeria, until recently, we collect subvention from government to run these airports. But from the evolution of airport management, what is happening all over world, airports are self-funded. ACI is looking at how to assist airports to sustain businesses in order to make sure they pay for their cost of running. So, we will talk to experts on the best practices or what we need to do in order to make our airports self-sustaining.
What is happening with the concession of the airports?
There are a lot of work going on and the need to develop a business case. We have consultants that are working. What they need to do is to look at the current situation, what do we have? How do we do it? There are lots of documentation going on at the moment and the consultants are working. When they finish the development of the business case and then come up with the entire documentation that is needed, we can now present it to investors.
What specific benefits do you think Nigeria will get from the conference?
This conference is going to bring experts from all over the world and they are going to participate. They will participate in discussions, there will be meetings, there will be one-on-one interactions. All these arrangements are being made. The entire conference offers these opportunities. The advantage to Nigeria is that we can go there in numbers. All the operators in Nigeria are invited. They can come and listen with these experts and take home what they want to take home. The other thing is that once the conference starts, it is business throughout. Exhibitors will be there, so anyone that has a particular interest will now look at the programme and choose which one to key into and take advantage of it. Manufacturers will be there; they will come and exhibit their products. There will be other issues on security and safety. Usually the emphasis is on safety and security but this time around, we will divert a little bit to commercial, which is the sustainability of business in African airports. We will make sure experts talk to us in this field. There will still be a lot of safety and security issues that will be discussed at the conference.
What implementation plans are you looking at, after the conference?
In ACI, what we do is to develop programmes. In every conference that we do, there is a programme that comes out of it. This is why we have Airport Excellence in Safety (APEX) and it is a programme. So you key into it, you send the experts there and they go and help you check how safe your airport is and how safe your operations are and they give you a document. The document they gave us on Murtala Muhammed Airport is over 100-page document and you have to implement that. APEX in security was approved in Mauritius during the last conference. Nigeria was the first country to key into APEX in the area of security. What I expect in this conference is that at the end of it, we will come up with something on commercial.
Then they will recommend a best practice and any airport that has not reached this level can key into this. Experts will come and they will look at it and tell you what you are not doing right and correct them. It is not a kind of conference that you will come and people deliver lectures and everyone walks away. We will develop a programme out of each conference. Even the APEX in security that is already running, we have continued to develop it. During the conference, people will come with new ideas and we adopt. So, we will develop programmes during the conference and implement them. Experts key into them and we will send the experts to the airports to assist these airports to bring their levels up.
Over the years, Africa has been like a footnote in terms of airport ratings, management and safety. FAAN has played a significant role in ACI Africa. What is your evaluation of the recognition of African airports, and what is the rating of Nigerian airports?
The people that rate the airports are either the professional bodies, either the civil aviation authority of the country, or the ACI experts or the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). These are the people that have the tools to rate the airports. I have seen other people rating airports, but I don’t consider that kind of rating professional because you go there, look at an airport and make comments and you say you are rating airports. But there are standard tools by ICAO, ACI and by NCAA to rate the airports. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) visits the airports everyday and comes with ratings. These agencies are specialised. They have experts in safety, fire, rescue, security, facilitation and aerodrome standards. They will go to the airport and look at it. These experts go to the airport, look at specific things and come back with ratings. After these, they will tell you if it is below standard and what needs to be improved upon. Even the implementation of the plans is done under safety standards. For example, the APEX on safety that we did in Abuja and Lagos, experts came from various countries and they looked at the airports. These are experts in aerodrome and other specialisations. These are people that are qualified and have certified rating in their fields. They will come to the airport and we allow them access to everywhere and they will access and see the areas that are lagging behind.
They will look to see if what is on ground tallies with things that are in the books. They tell you areas you need to improve on. They will tell you if the airport is okay in terms of safety, security and aerodrome standards, among others. They come back with correction action plan and they will tell you what you will do about it during that time frame. If there are things that cannot be done, then aeronautical study needs to be carried out to say these are the procedures to go around the issue. There are no differences in the ratings and the assessments; whether it is done it in Maiduguri, New York or anywhere else. It is the same standard. The good thing is that airports are categorised and within your category, you will be assessed based on that.
If you say you want airports that can land Boeing B747 aircraft, then they will assess you based on that critical aircraft and that standard. Do you have enough manpower to handle B747? Do you have the right runway? Do you have enough parking space? Are the signs okay? Can the pilot see them? So these are the assessments of an airport.
How has visa on arrival helped to facilitate the ease of doing business in Nigeria?
Visa on arrival has made it easy for investors and others to visit Nigeria. The whole thing is to make travel and business easy. So, if I don’t have to apply for visa and go for visa interview in a country where I live and I know that if I come to Nigeria I can get visa, it makes life easy. A lot of people are encouraged to travel. So, they send an application online and by the time they arrive here, they just submit their passports and they are issued visa. This will encourage people because it makes life and travel easy. All you need to do is to send your applications and fill the forms online. By the time you arrive at the airport, it takes a few minutes to get the visa. This encourages people to travel. That is why the number of passengers who benefit from visa on arrival is on the increase. Before the introduction of visa on arrival, in some countries where we don’t have embassy, it made life difficult for people to travel to Nigeria. There was a time the Canadian government removed their embassy from Nigeria, so we had to go to Ghana to get visa. If there was visa on arrival in Canada for Nigerians, why do I need to spend a night in Accra, just to get visa? With visa on arrival, you send your application, once you get approval, you travel.
Why the choice of Oriental Hotel for the Airports Council International Conference, knowing the challenge with parking lots and the traffic gridlock on the island?
We don’t expect so much movement after you have checked-in. Oriental Hotel has the facility that we require. They have exhibition halls, meeting rooms and accommodation. There are other hotels around we have prepared that will support us in case the accommodation in Oriental Hotel is not sufficient. If people cannot be accommodated at Oriental Hotel, there are other hotels that are affordable around the area. We have looked round and looking at what we require, we discovered that Oriental Hotel will be the best for us.