The Managing Director, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Saleh Dunoma, in this exclusive interview with Chinedu Eze, believes that if the nation’s airports are concessioned, it will attract private sector investment, bring about infrastructure development and job creation. Excerpts:
With the two terminals at the Port Harcourt and Abuja airports already commissioned, has the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) started processing passengers through the facilities?
We have started using the new terminal at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, but we have not started processing passengers from the new terminal in Port Harcourt because there are only two airlines in Port Harcourt. One of them Air France said that they want to stop their operation to Port Harcourt; I think because of passenger level. However, they have not told us the reason. But whatever reason they have must have to do with their international operations. You know every year airlines review their plan for the year and they adjust their schedules and so on. So in this adjustment they indicated that they may not continue with Port Harcourt. Lufthansa is also operating from Port Harcourt. We are preparing for them to move in but we had a little challenge and that challenge has to do with the push pack system, which the Nigeria Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Plc is supposed to provide but they have gotten one now. As of the last meeting that we held last Sunday (January 5, 2019) with them, they told us that they have taken one from Abuja to Port Harcourt. So as soon as that is done and tested then Lufthansa will move in.
Are you aware of any other international airline designated for Port Harcourt?
I know there are locations in the Ministry of Transportation for airlines that want to either increase their frequency into Nigeria or wanting to come into Nigeria. But I can’t say exactly whether they have indicated interest in going into Port Harcourt. But what I can quickly add is that I know that with that facility there it will attract some airlines to want to go into Port Harcourt.
What is the state of the new terminals in Kano, Lagos and Enugu?
All of them are at advanced stage of completion. We are praying that sometime this year, maybe all of them will be commissioned. You know that there are two parts to this project, the phase one and the phase two. Government approved the phase two, with that approval we are pushing the contractors to make sure they complete within the shortest possible time. The issue with Lagos is that, you know Lagos is a well-developed airport; we need to relocate some facilities in order to get sufficient manoeuvring facility for the airlines. So that is the issue that we have in Lagos which we are tackling now. Kano is slightly away from the main area of activity so we need to develop the apron and of course the taxi way into that place. These are some of the things that are in phase two but work has already started on the phase two so we are just pushing the contractors.
There are hints that the Chinese that built the airport terminals would operate them until they recoup the money they spent on them. Is that true?
There is nothing like the Chinese will run it. They gave us a loan to construct the terminals and we are supposed to pay back this loan. So arrangements are made in the agreement we signed that as soon as the buildings are put into operation they will give us a gestation period and then from there we will start paying back the loan. So we are making arrangements to start payments as soon as the gestation period is over. They are not going to run the terminals, what we want to do with them is as usual, if you provide an infrastructure, there is a defect liability period which is about one year. So, they will help us train our engineers and maintain the facility for one year until the defect liability period is over. So they have to be around until our people get used to these facilities as quickly as possible. We have started the training even before the commissioning of the building, but this is purely technical area. Their engineers and technicians will remain with our technicians and engineers over this period of defect liability period so that after that, they will have their hands off. So the Chinese is not going to run the terminals, we have started in Abuja and you can see that our people are running it.
There were technical defects with the terminals in Lagos and Abuja, which demanded that the control tower would be relocated before the defects are corrected. Has FAAN find a way round that challenge?
Because of the massive construction going on at the Lagos airport, the present tower cannot see one side of the terminal building. To solve this problem, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has provided another mobile tower to look at the other side of the building; this is the solution that we have. But it is our belief that probably in the new infrastructure development that is coming; there will be additional runway for Abuja airport and other infrastructure, which will include a new fire station and a new control tower that will be strategically located to cover the airport, as required by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
This means that the control tower that would be built should be able to see all the terminal buildings and see the four ends of the runways. Each runway has two ends, the control tower should be able to see as the aircraft will land and take off on both sides of the runway. It should be able to see what is happening on the aprons of the terminal buildings. So we need to choose another location to strategically provide that. The fire station’s major requirement is that they should be strategically located. If there is any incident anywhere in the airport, in the shortest distance they can reach there. The existing control tower was built for one runway. The next one that would be built would cover the two runways and all sides of the airport.
So we are incorporating it in the design of the new runway so that these two facilities will be strategically located.
What is the time line for the new runway at Abuja airport?
We want to do it as quickly as possible but we don’t have time line because right now we are doing consultancy. It is when the consultants finish their design and give us the entire working drawings and all the details and then the consultant now will come up with time line. They can tell that this project can be completed either in 24 months or less. But it is our belief that it will not exceed 24 months.
If the runway were built the first time it was planned in 2010, what do you think Nigeria could have gained and what do you think FAAN has lost in not building the facility at that time?
We have lost a lot of opportunities. If we had built it at that time all these crises that we had in Abuja, closing the runway and all the attendant inconveniences and so on, we would have averted it that is number one. Number two; of course time value of money. At that time, dollar was costing N100 to a dollar, today it is N320. So you can imagine the effect on items that we need to import, airport equipment that we need to bring from outside. You can see that if you convert that amount in dollar that we would have spent that time and the amount of dollar we would have spent now and converted it to naira; you will see the difference is huge. So we would have saved that cost. Not only that, but also the opportunity we would have used to increase our capacity and we would have benefited from that capacity.
You have been here for some time and we know that the difference in the figure of passenger movement year to year is not significant. So looking at the way the economy is moving and Nigeria’s population, what is your projection on the increase in passenger movement, especially at the major airports?
Well, passenger movement will continue to increase and this is even buttressed by ICAO and IATA predictions. It is predicted that in developing countries passenger movement would double by 2030. In Africa, we believe that it will more than double for the simple reason that we have not developed other infrastructure like the train and the road infrastructure is not there. So a lot of people are going to depend on air travel because it is easier and faster. So we believe that in Africa passenger movement will be more than double by 2030. So that is why we are strategically developing the airport infrastructure in order to meet up with the demand that is coming. I know the industry is very sensitive, some time there is a drop but within a short period of time you will see that it will go up again. But if you look at the overall trend, passenger movement and aircraft movement are on the increase always.
You noticed that MMA2 is attracting airlines. Air Peace has gone there, Arik has been there, do you have any plan to restructure or expand the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) (MMA1) facility, especially the bag movement area?
Just like we are planning on finishing the terminal building in Lagos to have additional capacity, we are also planning to expand the apron at the GAT, and at the international terminal. This is because this is the only thing that is lacking. We have two runways, we are also working on the installation of runway lights to make sure that all the required facilities will be there so that there will be both day and night landings on the two runways in Lagos. That is number one. Number two, we are also planning to improve on the aprons both at international and domestic in order to increase our capacity in parking. So all these are programmes that if we do it, it will meet up with the requirement of the airlines.
Lack of airfield lighting at some airports is adversely affecting airline operations in Nigeria. Airlines are forced to delay flights at the airports that allow night landing and service those airports that close by 6:00 pm, thereby delaying their flights. Is it possible for you to have an arrangement with investors to build those airfield lights at the runways?
There is no airport that doesn’t have airfield lighting except Enugu. Enugu is under construction. The project in Enugu is not yet finished and we are still planning to finish it. The problem with Enugu is land; we need Enugu state government to help us acquire more land so that we can do the installations. But all our airports have airfield lighting. What is happening is this, if you have an airport, let’s say Yola airport and you say Yola airport is 24 hours, Maiduguri is 24 hours, Katsina is 24 hours and put then all on 24 hours, the cost to FAAN is huge. So what we do is to limit the hours of operation because if you look at them, most of them have only one or two flights a day.
And these flights do not go beyond 6 pm, so we operate them 18 hours instead of 24 hours. So that from mid night or from 6:00 pm or 8:00 pm in the evening depending on the programme that they have we shut down the airport. So that we can now conserve money that is spent on the airfield operation systems without getting any flights into them. But on request if you want to go to any of these airports that have airfield lighting that have short hours of operation we can extend but you pay. But if the traffic improves of course why not, we can open it up to 24 hours. But all airports are initially designed with airfield lighting system.
Lest go back to Bi-Courtney, you know the intractable face-off between FAAN and Bi-Courtney, do you think there can be an amicable resolution?
We can resolve this issue out of court. What is the interest of FAAN and what is the interest of government? The interest of FAAN and government by and large is to make sure we provide service to Nigerians. He is running a facility that is required to provide service. Of course there are commercial issues between us and them, provided we sit down and agree that you provide this service and then fulfil all the commercial issues, we can resolve it amicably. But he is already in court, so we allow the court case to run. There is nothing anybody can do but if both of us opt today and we agree to get out of court and settle of course we will sit down and talk. Because the interest is not for us to be in court, the interest is for us to come down, work together so that we have a win, win situation by providing good service to Nigerians.
You have been the President of Airport Council International (ACI) Africa, what do you think Nigeria has benefitted from that your position?
There are lots of benefits. First of all, at the beginning, the first thing Nigeria gained was to have the first Nigerian to be the president of ACI. From there we got very close to the programmes of ACI. That has also helped us to certify our airports because I have told our colleagues and other people that any time we go for ACI meeting, we sit down and look at the progress of all African airports. And they say okay Egypt, for example, has certified one airport, Morocco has certified one airport. Me as the president of ACI coming from Nigeria we have not certified any airport. So that has encouraged me and Nigerians to put in more effort to make sure that we certify two airports at the same time. And we are working on another two and another two. So we will continue with that until we certify our own airport. That encouragement came because I was the president of ACI and it is a shame that our airports were not certified. And you know that Nigerian is the president of ICAO, you know the secretary general of AFCAC (African Civil Aviation Commission) at that time is Nigerian. So how can we be heading all the international organisations and we cannot achieve anything like certification? So that pushed us also to do the certification. Not only that, you can see that our training centre in Lagos has been accredited as aviation security, regional training centre par excellence. That also helped us to pursue that programme and to make sure that we got to that level. That is done now, so we can now train people, have aviation security personnel in this region; that is the West African region. So you see that is another achievement. Not only that, we also participated in all the programmes like Airport Excellence on safety, airport excellence on security, we are now participating in carbon accreditation, we are also participating in airport excellence facilitation, airport service quality programme. So all these programmes are provided by ACI to assist African airports improve their level improve the quality of service they deliver and improve their facilitation, safety and security, because these are the major things in airport operation. So with those assessments on the airports they come and tell you what you are, what you are supposed to be and you have to get there and they give you time line. So participation in this programme has improved the lots of our airports in the country. So there are a lot of benefits of being the president of ACI. It is not only that; it opens my eyes as the president of ACI to all the issues that are happening in the industry in Africa. So we now sit together as colleagues from other African countries and come up with a solution that is workable to all of us. And we approach the governments, like in this region we have approached ECOWAS and in other regions they approached the relevant bodies. So by the time our heads of government and heads of states meet and we present some cases to them that are common to the industry and then it is considered and a global decision is taken.
It also allows us to liaise with ICAO and ACI World to make sure that we are not left behind in any other development in the industry. So they look at all the programmes and issues that are at hand and say okay Africa what is your stake? How do you want to handle this? We will come back with the solution to them and say this is our situation, we need this and this. Even the training programme and other developmental programmes will be tailored towards the region and towards Africa. We will have to present our case and say that this is the best solution that we feel we need to implement in Africa. And they will look at it and advise us and ask, what are the short falls that we have? Where can we get assistance? If it is something that we can get assistance within Africa, we will go to ACI Africa and make sure that we extend hand of assistance to all other airports so that we can all develop and bring them up to a certain level that we feel they need to get to.
If it is something that Africa cannot provide, we will go to ACI America or ACI Europe and they give us either resources or resource persons so that they can come and help us and do certain trainings. So many programmes are developed by that association and then we relate with relevant bodies all over the world to make sure we get that assistance.
FAAN workers do want to hear about concession but many people believe that it is the solution for the airports to work efficiently and be modernised. The Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika said he is going to concession the airports, but till now nothing has happened. What do you think was the problem and do you think it will be realised in a short time?
As far as FAAN is concerned I do think there is any organisation in this country apart from ports that has a lot of concession like FAAN. If you go to any airport, if you look at the terminal building all the shops within the terminal building are run by private individuals, there is no shop belonging to FAAN in there. So that is a level of concession. If you look also at other facility provided around the airport, they are all done by other parties not FAAN. But FAAN manages the airport, so concession to FAAN is not new. But we want to take it to another level. That is what the minister wanted to do. You see, a lot of people misunderstood the word concession because the word concession and privatisation is being mixed. So the fear of everybody including the unions is that when you say concession you are privatising. You are not privatising at all. Privatisation means taking the asset from being government owned and put it over the fence and give it to the private sector and sell it. But concession is not like that, concession is saying that look I have this facility that I am running, I am not a specialist in all the areas, why don’t we get a specialist, let the specialist come, partner with us so that we can gain from his technical experience, we can gain from his financial disposition, so that we can improve on this infrastructure in order to provide for the service that we require and then we share the benefits.
But the asset still belongs to the government. So this is the kind of concession that the Minister wants to embark upon. Of course it requires a lot of planning, understanding and of course Nigeria as a government encourages that. That is why the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) has been setup to do. They provide concession regulation, they provide the atmosphere, they do the regulation and make sure that whatever is done is agreeable to all the laws that are provided in ICRC. It is a long process; it is not something that you jump into just like that. You have to have a programme, go through the processes in order to avoid any mistake and eventual legal issues. We are doing a lot of planning and the advantage of that is that you will get access to funds. You will recall that our economy was dependent on oil, now oil revenues are going down, there are so many issues that the government wants to deal with.
There are so many issues that we cannot compete with. For example, aviation cannot compete with security of the nation; aviation cannot compete with health and education. Aviation also generates some revenue, since we can generate revenue why don’t we partner with people that are ready to invest, people that know the industry, people that have done it somewhere else and they are successful. Why don’t we look at those modules and look at the Nigerian laws and comply with the Nigerian laws and do this concession so that investors can come in and invest and we share the proceeds at the end of the day. And the fear of the union was that it is privatisation and once you privatise, of course, the tendency is that the private entity will reduce this and that in order to make more profit. But this is not the case here, what is concession to develop our infrastructure, increase our capacity and then we have more people.
Look at the Chinese terminal, this is a typical example. The Chinese terminal was funded by the federal government and the ChinaExim Bank loan. So now we have commissioned two as I speak to you. I need more staff to run those terminals.
We are looking for more people, so it has created an opportunity for us to employ. So the unions are very happy because right now I am short of staff to run those terminals. We are not closing down the whole terminals, we are running them. So we are looking for more people to employ because of the additional capacity we have created in terms of infrastructure. So the unions fear is not real, it is imaginary. So now that they have seen that; I don’t think the unions are afraid of concession.
The concession is similar to this loan, in fact concession is better. The reason why I said concession is better is that you can go to any bank and take a loan. If you mismanage the loan the bank will come after you to take their money, just like it is happening to some of our airlines. But in concession, the investor is your partner, he has a stake, he wouldn’t want to run it down. The partner would make sure that it is a success and we are not just picking anybody. We are picking people that have experience in the industry, people that know how to manage, people that know how to run the system, that have experience, so that at the end of the day they will bring their experience, managerial capabilities and they will provide their funds so that we improve on the infrastructure and we run it together and we share the proceeds. And that would also create employment opportunities for the unions. So concession is better than loan.
I heard that you just inspected new generators at the Abuja airport. What is their deployment like and how do we solve the frequent outage at Lagos airport?
Of recent we have never had outages at the Lagos airport. There is sufficient power supply in Lagos and Abuja and what we are trying to do is to improve the system so that we don’t get to a situation whereby equipment will fail. The power outages that we had in Lagos was as a result of failure of certain equipment like the transformer and so on. But we are replacing most of them; that is why we have all these power projects all over the place. What is happening in Abuja is that with the commission of the new terminal building, we had a plan to improve the power supply so that it will now accommodate the new infrastructure that we are putting together and to have additional capacity also.
The rail station that is there probably will require power from us, so we have to have additional capacity for the immediate growth. Because as a result of the new terminal being commissioned other people might want to come in to the airport to want to do business. These people will require power to run their businesses. So we have designed power supply system that will take care of the new terminal and additional request that may come from other people that want to do business around the airport. So this is the power facility that we are trying to commission now, the construction is going on and at the end of the day we will have sufficient power. Mind you this is standby power supply because we are still dependent on the national grid.
So this one is standby just in case the public one fails, we can revert back to our second systems. So it is our own systems that we are upgrading, but we are also working with suppliers of power in Abuja, Lagos and Gencos to make sure that they upgrade their supply to the airport to guarantee us a level of performance. We have done that in Lagos, we are trying to do that in Abuja and Abuja has improved. Actually the power supply to the airport has improved tremendously especially reliability. So I want to seize this opportunity to thank all Power Holding Companies in Lagos and Abuja in fact in all the airports. If there is any outage which is unavoidable it is as a result of equipment failure. Of course you cannot rule out completely 100 per cent that these things won’t happen but we have systems in place to check that and we are improving on those systems.
Recently there were some complaints of FAAN not having adequate aviation security personnel. The report said some aviation security personnel overstretch their work time and suffer from stress and other inconveniences which are not good for airport security system. What is the solution to this problem?
We have put in a solution in place. This shortage in manpower, especially in aviation security and fire is as a result of government banning employment some time back. Employment is supposed to be a continuous thing but unfortunately there was a time government banned employment into government service, whether you are parastatal or ministry. That created a generation gap in our system. And you know for professionals like aviation security operators and firefighting personnel and safety personnel, these are professionals in the aviation industry that you cannot pick them from the streets. There is nowhere you can go and get a BSC in firefighting, there is nowhere you can go and come out with a BSC in aviation security. What we do is, we pick people from different school curriculum and bring the people that are interested to be trained.
The minimum training that ICAO prescribed for you to be a fireman or a security officer in the industry is three months. And that training is the basic training and from there on you continue to get more and more training so that you can get to the professional level. This is because even in the security if you get the training of three months it is basic. Then if you become a screener or if you get a certificate as a screener or surveillance officer it takes another time. So that is the issue that we have, even if we employ you now you have to undergo the training. Once you qualify, you have to learn the environment apart from getting the basic education; you have to go through the environmental training, which means you have to go on the job training. You have to work under somebody for another six months or so. So for one year you will be trained and that is the basic training. So once you get the basic training then we look at you and say okay this person is good at this and we start training and develop you to become another specialised professional in one of the units or the other depending on your capabilities and our observations.
So it is very difficult to train but we are now working on it, we have employed like 700 people at the instance. We will soon start training at various locations all over the country so that as soon as they acquire the basic skills we will bring them to the airport for on the job training. And then later on by the time they get professional, NCAA will have to give them a certificate before they now become aviation professionals. So you see it is a long process, it is like taking you and say you start your education all over again. So it is a long process, we are going through that and very soon we will address that gap. I want to note also that everything we do is in compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation. We comply with ICAO regulation.