Yadudu: Restoring Critical Airport Facilities Will Improve Air Transport in Nigeria
The Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Captain Rabiu Musa Yadudu, speaks on the need to provide critical airport infrastructure, the restoration of essential facilities to improve air safety and give travellers better experience. Chinedu Eze presents the excerpts:
RESA Airport Digital Solutions, which provides easy passenger facilitation, which we used to replace SITA that provides similar services, is very good. RESA and SITA are the biggest two in the world. Most of Europe is RESA and SITA and most of the USA is SITA because it is an American Company etc, but SITA was giving us service for only two airports (Lagos and Abuja) and we went and negotiated an agreement with RESA that covers the five international airports. So, instead of covering two for 10 years, now, we are covering five international airports. We now have a larger number of check-in systems delivered to the airports. There is departure control system all in this one and many other services.
Most importantly, the technology we had with SITA was CUTE (common use terminal equipment) and it was replaced sometime in 2009 with CUPPS (Common Use Passenger Processing System). FAAN needs to modernize. So, we went for a newer technology and that is what RESA is offering us. This particular RESA system also has function on revenue automation and it is the latest one being adopted by the whole world and that is what Nigeria has.
New Terminal and Relocation
The new international terminal in Lagos has opened. When you inaugurate a new terminal, you have to do operational review and transfer before you can move. We decided to start moving in phases from the old terminal to the new. We didn’t want everyone to move at the same time. If you remember, when Terminal 5 opened at Heathrow in London, it took organisations about six months because of teething problems that came up. It is only here that people complain. There is nowhere in the world that you have a perfect system. No airport operates in isolation of its environment. Aviation industry keeps evolving when the challenges happen and are tackled immediately. The relocation is a phased one to the new terminal. No airport system will say you want to relocate to a new terminal and you want to remove everybody, you will crash. So, we sent tow airlines and other ones will follow.
I told them to move the airlines that operate morning and afternoon flights to the new terminal so that we will decongest the old terminal. It is unfortunate that some of them said they will not move, but we are not ready to compel them to move. We just keep quiet. You cannot be a FAAN stakeholder and dictate to us. When the time comes, they must all move. Those that refused to move want to paint us in bad light that we don’t have a good terminal, which is not true.
You were complaining of the bad facilities and the baggage handling, now, we provided you with a new one, yet, you refused to move. The whole of aviation in the world is national interest and unfortunately, Nigerians are joining them to condemn the industry.
24 Hours Operation of Airports
FAAN want all airports to operate 24 hours because it is a business for FAAN. We earn our revenue from the operations; we are a service delivery agency, but the challenge is, will the 24/7 pay for itself? Somebody has to pay for the 24/7 operations. Will the business pay for itself? If we open an airport with just only three landings, FAAN will close down. No organization in the world will do that. Even if you go to Europe, you will find out that many airports are sunrise to sunset. You can operate an airport even for sunrise to midday so that everybody that knows should go around that window.
FAAN cannot operate an airport that we cannot breakeven, because we are already challenged. We want 24/7 days airport, but we need to know if the business will be sustainable. At first, some of the businesses may look as if they are sustainable even for the next two years. So, somebody must be ready to have the business model to sustain 24/7 operations.
One airline came to us about two years ago and said that they wanted to operate 24/7 operations to Yola and wanted FAAN to extend the time for them, but I told them that we would need a lot of money to do that. An airline may decide to open a route today and dispatch just one aircraft, but for FAAN, NAMA (the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency) and others will have to mobilise personnel, ensure efficiency and fix facilities that can be moved in and out. Sometimes, fuellers and handlers will be needed. We don’t want a situation whereby an airline will start a route now and in the next few months, it will stop such route due to lack of passengers. Then, who will pay for all we have gone through?
Beefing Up Security
We have resolved the security issue and the manifestation of that is on ground. On that singular incident (of dead body found at Lagos international airport runway), there is still an investigation ongoing, but we can’t make any public statement until the result of the investigation is out. There are a lot of theories on it. I won’t dwell much on this until the report of the investigation is out. However, government processes and procedures, which are necessary, also matter in all we do. A private airport can have a problem today and by tomorrow, it can deploy the solutions to the problem because it does not go through long bureaucracy. We know the solutions to the problems we have, but we have to ensure that due processes are followed for us to implement them.
Additional challenges arise when you have to bring the equipment from abroad; which will involve manufacturing, shipping and others. Sometimes you can know them, identify them and before you can ensure solution, it may take you up to a year.
I was a Director of Operations in FAAN when we realized there was the need for total surveillance for the whole airport. I went to Munich, Germany by the end of 2018 or so. I identified the company, they came to do lead assessment twice; marking and survey. They gave us the estimate for visual and thermal infrared cameras. They will manufacture visuals to cover the areas of the airports for a whole day, from sunrise to sunset and thermal from sunset to early morning. The equipment is high performer. If a rabbit is walking within 8km radius, which is 16km diameter, the cameras will identify it. The camera will cover the whole airport. The runway is 3.7km or 3.8km and we are buying about four of those cameras to cover the airfield.
We started the procurement of the equipment and the Minister of Aviation was very supportive. As of now, the procurement has been concluded and Mr. President approved it last year, part payment has already been made to the manufacturer and the Chief of Staff and myself, we went to the factory to ensure that what we are buying is what we are getting. We were there in November 2021. The delivery will happen within the next one or two months and then installation follows. This is fully automated system that will be spanning 360 degree. We already know the solutions to all the challenges we are going through, the Minister knows and even Mr. President knows too.
In the meantime, to secure the airports before the equipment arrives; we had set up the manual patrol of airport territory; the military is going around the airport facilities for improved security.
The installation of the surveillance, automated system is not just in Lagosalone, but it includes Abuja airport. We also bought two motorized equipment. So that if we have any security challenges at any airport, we will drive it there and deploy it. We have three screens that we can use to monitor and protect the airports.
High Cost of Aviation Fuel
We really sympathise with the airline on the scarcity of Jet A1 (aviation fuel). If anything affects the airlines, it will affect FAAN and every other thing or organization in aviation. The airlines are struggling to remain in business. Some people said that they should transfer the high cost of aviation fuel to the passengers. Some of these things are easier said than done, but you have to understand that the whole of aviation is all about enabling the economy. You cannot just be increasing prices arbitrarily. Your revenue will drop. We are working actively with the airlines with the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and I can tell you that there is a lot of positive action from the government.
Some of the facilities and equipment we have are ageing. Some of them are even 40 years and above. As the current management in FAAN, we want to make sure that anybody who comes as the next managing director of FAAN will inherit better airport facilities. We want to make their jobs easier. We are going out of our way to make sure we do our own. Now, we are fixing the runway 18L (known as the domestic runway at the Lagos airport). You cannot land on 18L at night (because there are no runway lighting), now; the contractor that is installing the lights is back. He was supposed to finish in March, but the cables he had were of low qualities and we insisted on original ones. So, he said he would fix it by June or latest July. So, after nine years, we are fixing some of these things that were abandoned and we are also starting new ones, including baggage-handling facility, the central cooling system.
We contacted the airfield lighting company in Europe to fix the new ones, overhaul the whole airfield lighting system; there was no overhaul of the system in 42 years. That is also in the process. We are fixing things so that those that come after us will get things easier.
We have done so much in the last three years when I was appointed the Managing Director of FAAN. Major repair of ageing equipment is going on and components are being rehabilitated. I gave you an example in Lagos; abandoned runway and airfield lighting. We are replacing most aged equipment at different airports in the country. Some were last replaced either 1980 or 1985, now, we are replacing them. It is only the air-conditioning system that we have not yet procured, but we are processing it and the airfield lighting, but all other basic ones, including baggage handling and other basic ones that the people see every day. We have started with the avio bridges, we have started with them and that is in terms of infrastructure.
We set up a committee last year to identify and evaluate all airport facilities and replace some of them that are aged. Some of these equipment were supposed to be replaced every 15 years, but some have gone 25 to 30 years. So, we have a committee that is working and they are almost completing it. They gave us the state of the equipment for all the airports so that we can make use of it, work with the Ministry and use it to know their status so that we can plan.
This year, we will work in Akure, Borno, Sokoto and next year, we will work in Port Harcourt, Benin and Yola. We don’t have all the money to fix all, but we will do the entire airports gradually. So, when I leave here, those coming after me will be making use of the new systems we have installed.
Decentralisation of Operations
We intend to decentralize essential operations and management of FAAN. A lot of things are concentrated around the headquarters and you cannot be macro managing all other airports from the headquarters. The headquarters will be doing a lot. From the first day I assumed office, I told them we will be decentralizing; each airport will be responsible for itself, but we will monitor and do surveillance of the facilities.
I think in the next two weeks, we will start it. We have used the last two years doing the planning and now, we have developed the Key Performance Indexes (KPI). With this, the issue of laxity in the system can be checked mated. This will make us to know those whoa are messing it up and we won’t wait till the end of the year before we take an action.
Even the welfare of our staff, we will decentralize it and they managers are responsible. We will also ensure accountability. If your manager is messing up, it is easier for you to know. Also, we have started the scholarship exercise for all our staff and the best five students in each of the five regions will get the scholarship and FAAN will make sure we fund their university education.