IMPERATIVES OF DRIVING AVIATION NEXT LEVEL

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Dan Aibangbe writes that the new management of FAAN needs to aggressively pursue ease of doing business at the airports

All over the world, air travel remains by far the preferred option for extensive mobility. Both for business and leisure, the speed, the comfort and the safety are incomparable. Added to these are the ambience and panache attached to air travel.

Interestingly, the differentiating parameters highlighted above are fast being obliterated by advancement in other modes of transportation, such as the urban train system, the rapid bus transit system, the cable car system, to mention just a few.

However, air transport still stands out, based on the volume, the reach, the cross-border capacities and the prestige associated with it.

The challenge with air transportation globally, is basically the cost of operation and the technical input. The level of precision required for safe operations also necessitates high level manpower with its attendant cost of training and re-training, certification and motivation. The only mitigating factor to these high costs is the level of operational efficiency dictated by favorable fleet performance indices in addition to high passenger throughput value. Where the volume of passengers handled is high, the airlines can afford to charge more user-friendly fees for the tickets which will in turn result in higher patronage.

In Nigeria, the major challenges of air travel, aside from the global experience, include unpredictable cost and availability of aviation fuel; safety concerns due to breaches of established standards and norms; inadequate spread of standard aviation infrastructure across the regions; inadequate number of qualified local manpower (eg ATCs ); financial capacities of airlines to compete with foreign counterparts, among a host of other issues.

The key regulators and players, especially the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), has been grappling with these operational issues towards developing optimal solutions for all stakeholders. For instance, it will be interesting to note that only about four airports out of the more than 16 national airports are operating profitably. The rest are being sustained by the revenue generated from the profitable ones.

Similar trends avail for the local airline operators. Surprisingly, the foreign airlines are smiling to the banks with their business sustained mostly from their Nigerian operations. Recently, there has been an outcry against the commencement of about four daily “sorties” by the Emirates DreamLiner Aircraft.

The above phenomenon suggests the viability of air transportation in Nigeria with operational challenges limiting the viability of the local operators. With over 220 million potential passengers, there is room for better profitability in air transport. The relevant questions to ask include why most of the incidents in recent times relate to local operators. Why are the international players such as Kenyan Airlines, South African Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates Airlines, etc., faring better in the same environment? Why did the CBN package meant to lift the Nigerian aviation industry not achieve the desired results? Why did the “Nigerianized” Virgin Atlantic fail to perform unlike its British progenitor? The fault, dear Nigerians, is in ourselves and not in our stars.

This is where the mandate of FAAN as encapsulated in its establishing act since 1935 becomes relevant in driving the immediate aviation next level imperatives. As a major industry player mandated to develop, provide, and maintain the nation’s airports, FAAN also optimizes necessary services and facilities for safe, expeditious and economic operations of Nigerian air transport.

The new management of FAAN, in delivering the next-level promise needs to aggressively pursue ease of doing business at all Nigerian airports. The agency also needs to focus on improvement in infrastructure development with the possibility of private sector involvement in direct ownership and concession arrangement; coordinate campaigns to develop patronage of aviation services in partnership with established travel agencies; coordinate efforts to develop all forms of tourism that will attract immigrant traffic and or limit emigration relating to such areas as the arts, music, nature, sports, medical and business. These are the key drivers of aviation traffic outside the existing box of organic traffic.

FAAN should as well consider the engagement of Aviation Business Development Consultants with specific mandates to grow air passenger traffic at each region currently experiencing under-patronage. Such consultants may explore development of cargo business as an option or addition to passenger traffic. Where the revenue is high enough, there will be adequate resources to shore up facility development and safety infrastructure.

We have observed with keen interest the strides taken by FAAN in the last few years which have yielded CAT One certification of the prime airports, a feat which won the acclaim of Nigerians and the international community. Other definite positives include the centralized screening, powered by the automated digital machines currently easing commuting for travellers and curbing activities of drug barons and smugglers; increased number of international airports; a record time upgrade of the runway at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja; modernization of the Port Harcourt International Airport terminal; completion of the perimeter fencing at major airports and a host of other quiet advancements resulting in improved safety, quality of service delivery and efficient travel experience.

The new imperatives, if religiously pursued, will boost prosperity and further developmental advancement. This is necessary to correctly position the Nigerian aviation in its rightful place among the top echelon of world aviation industry.

The youthful energy of the new FAAN Administration will be handy in manifesting the promise of a Next-Level Nigerian Aviation.

Aibangbe wrote from Lagos