United States-based Nigerian aviation safety and management expert, Mr. Alaba Gabriel Idowu, in this interview, speaks about how the Nigerian government can create more jobs in the aviation industry, and turn the airports to tourist centres. Sunday Okobi brings the excerpts:
Recently, you analysed how the Nigerian aviation industry could create over 40,000 jobs if the government is willing to do the right thing. How can that be achieved?
I remember that vividly. The truth is that we are under-utilising our resources. I will give you a few tips on how the industry can create such number of jobs. Let’s start with the airports. We all know that an airport is a complex transportation facility designed to serve aircraft, passengers, cargo, and surface vehicles, but the usefulness and advantages of airports are far greater than that. Time will fail me to talk about all the economic, social, and political roles of an airport. Airports stimulate economic growth by providing employment and income to individuals, taxes to the country, states, and local government areas, and revenue to local and national firms engaged in producing goods and services. Nothing stops each state in Nigeria from having a functional airport. When I say a functioning airport, I’m not referring to an airport that is only available for departure and arrival of aircraft. Airport’s role is holistic. If each state has a well-developed airport, numerous jobs will be created. Besides, there are other aviation businesses that the government needs to encourage to increase the productivity of the industry. Some of the airports will be too close. Don’t you think that that might create a lot of challenges?
I don’t think so. I once heard that Ibadan airport in Oyo State could not become an international airport because it is too close to Lagos (international) airport. If we want to grow as a country and also develop our aviation sector, we should stop thinking that way. Let’s take a look at other nations. There are two main airports in Dallas, Texas in the United States of America (Dallas Fort Worth airport and Dallas Love Field).
There are also two international airports in Houston, Texas (Houston hobby airport and Houston intercontinental airport). In Washington, we have different international airports not far from one another. A similar trend occurs in European countries; you will see airports not too far from one another. If we begin to compare ourselves with other African nations that are barely developing, we can never grow. We are not even advocating for each airport to become an international airport. Obviously, that’s impossible, but a well-developed airport in each state. You will be amazed at the economic benefits that will follow the development of each airport in Nigeria.
Besides, this will enhance aviation safety. Is it not sad that most international flights choose Kotoka international airport in Ghana as their alternate airport? If each state in the country has a well-developed airport for local operations, do you think there would be enough travelers using these airports? Nigerians travel a lot. You will be amazed to find out the number of people traveling from Ondo State, Osun state, Ekiti State, and other cities in the western part of Nigeria to Lagos daily to board flights to other parts of the world. Many of them spend more than six hours on the road. I have heard of many who missed their flight because they were stuck in traffic. This happens to other travelers in other parts of the country.
The truth that the Nigerian government might not want to hear is this: to grow the economy of any nation, the government must develop a means to solve the problem of the masses continuously. In solving the problem of the masses, the government generates revenue and creates jobs for the unemployed. Why do you think there are job opportunities in most advanced nations? The reason is that they are solution providers to the problem of the people. I just identified one of the major problems travelers in Nigeria experience every day. Providing solution to this problem will create a lot of jobs for the masses.
Don’t you think that the Nigerian government is not ready to improve the state of any of the under-developed airports in country?
I think that if the government knows the benefits that come with improved and well-developed airports, they will be eager to do something positive to the airports. Hong-Kong international airport is the sixth best airport in the world. Their airport authorities have often expressed commitment to the continuous improvement and timely development to meet the growing demand for aviation services and enhance Hong Kong’s competitiveness. They understand the importance of continuous improvement and make the airport more of a tourist attraction than a travel necessity. They all have amenities to make you feel comfortable. Funny enough, passengers prefer to have a delayed flight or longer layover so that they can explore the airport. If we are committed to excellence, we won’t have difficulties developing our airports. It is high time we (Nigerians) started doing the right thing to get meaningful and beneficial results.
What other ways do you suggest the government can create jobs in the aviation industry?
There are many ways in which jobs can be created. As I said earlier, the first step to take is to provide solutions to the current problems. Jobs will be automatically created in the process of solving the problems of the masses. Our aviation educational system should be a source of revenue for the government, and also a source of direct and indirect employment for the masses, but the whole educational system is in shambles. Many students expressed their frustration to me about how difficult it is to get admission into Nigeria College of Aviation Technology. I will never blame the school because they cannot admit more than they can train. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. I know we have another flying school in Ilorin, but they cannot meet the demand. So, if we have difficulties admitting our citizens, how on earth can we admit international students like they do in South Africa? Besides, the system doesn’t encourage entrepreneurs (investors). I heard of a Nigerian captain who wanted to set up a flight school in Nigeria, but got frustrated. He had to go to Ghana to set up the flight school. If you know how much Nigerians spend on flight training outside the country yearly, you will realise why our economy is in this pathetic state. Let’s even assume we have enough training centres; do we have enough resources? I don’t think so. We need enough general aviation airports that allow students to shoot different kinds of approaches and have better training experience. My major concern is that we are used to the status quo, and until we break out from that kind of mindset, it won’t be easy to move the industry forward, and to create employment opportunities will be a mirage.
I’m sure the Nigerian government would fancy the idea of improving and developing the airports, but where would they source to fund to such huge project?
I understand such situation. When it comes to airport improvement and development, there are two types of expenses-capital improvement expenses and operation and maintenance expenses (O&M). In a developed country, airports are funded through grants, airport improvement programmes, passenger facility charges, federal funding, state grant funding, private funding, and airport funding. Perhaps the federal government is not buoyant enough to fund airport developmental and improvement projects, but we can still consider other sources of funding. I’m sure if the government is willing to sign a few years contract with one or two private entities to develop the airports and run them for a few years, we won’t have any problem funding these projects.
Many Nigerian airlines launched direct flights to destinations outside the country but discontinued the operations after a while. What do you think might be responsible for such circumstance?
Many factors could have caused that. I know corruption and mismanagement might have contributed to the discontinuance of some of the operations. However, some airlines don’t do their due diligence. A suitable feasibility study is required to sustain flight operations, which includes determining how frequent people travel to such destinations and how to cope with competitors. If you are launching a flight to a destination being serviced by other airlines, the services you render would determine your operations’ sustainability. Most passengers like to stick to their preferred airlines, perhaps because of the mileage membership, so for these types of passengers to switch to your airline, the services you render must surpass the services of the current airlines servicing the route. One of the essential services is being on time. I know an airline that used to service Lagos to New York in USA, but discontinued the operations after a while. Before they ceased flight operations to New York, passengers complained a lot about flights being delayed. Many passengers missed their connecting flight and had to pay heavily for that. Will these passengers fly with such airline company again or recommend you to such airline? No. There is no way you won’t cease operations when travelers are not willing to fly with you anymore. We noticed this trend in the operations of almost all the airlines that ceased operations to international destinations. Sadly, this trend is still common with domestic flights till date
Recently, you won another award in the United States. What does it mean to you?
Well, I give glory to God for winning the Lauber Safety Award from the University Aviation Association in the United States. It is an award of excellence based on my contributions to aviation safety in the USA. I couldn’t have achieved this without the help of God. He strengthened me to work hard to embark on some projects in the industry that led to this recognition. I have an undying passion for the aviation sector, especially aviation safety and business management. This award is a push and an encouragement to do more in the industry.
As an inspiration to young people mostly in your field as aviation safety and management expert, what’s your message(s) to the youths and the industry?
I would like to encourage the youths to work hard and pursue purpose instead of money. Money is a reward that comes as a result of destiny fulfillment. There is no way you won’t make money if you are fulfilling your purpose, but you stand a chance of missing destiny if you pursue money. I give God the glory for helping me to be focused and pursue purpose instead of money. Many of my friends left the industry and ran after money because they could not endure it. The love of money is a distraction that hinders people from attaining the uttermost height in life. So, any youth who is willing to fulfill a purpose should see money as a reward and not a goal. Also, I would like to encourage our youths to be willing to embark on projects their peers are not willing to go into. Exceptional works require hard work, but it pays off in the long run.
In what way can you assist interested Nigerian youths who are willing to join the aviation industry?
I already have a mentorship programme to help those who are willing to become aviation professionals. We are working on projects that will bring solutions to some of the current problems in the industry.
What are the benefits of this mentorship programme, and how can interested persons be a part of it?
With this programme, every candidate will get guidance on professional development and advancement; develop new skills and knowledge; be part of research projects, and explore hidden opportunities in the aviation industry. Our mentorship areas are aviation safety, piloting, flight instruction, aviation research, and aviation business management.