The Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Captain Rabiu Hamisu Yadudu, in this interview, reviews the challenges and prospects of the nation’s aviation industry.
What has been your experience as FAAN MD?
As the MD of FAAN, I have no reason not to perform to expectations. I am working very hard to see that we succeed. Aviation is for everyone, and we are collaborating with our stakeholders to gauge what we are doing, which we use as our feedback to fine-tune our operations. We have started bi-monthly meetings with the Aircraft Owners Association of Nigeria.We meet in our boardroom here and in Abuja. They drew up about 21 items for us to work on to improve the industry. When they submitted the list to me, I added seven more items, all to help us to keep improving.
The second issue concerns our internal operations. I made it clear to our staff that they could send direct messages to the MD through WhatsApp and dedicated numbers to enable me have valuable information about things in the system and how to fix them. Thirdly, we do know we have a lot of infrastructure and equipment all around Nigeria. A lot of our equipment and infrastructure are dilapidated. We have been working to resolve all issues, from the smallest to the biggest. An example is Enugu Airport.
Is there assurance that the Enugu airport renovation will be completed on schedule?
I am assuring everyone that when we reopen the Enugu International Airport, it will look like a new one. We are fixing the runway, drainage system, medical facility, security, even the staff quarters. We hope that when we resume operations, there it will operate for 24 hours. Currently, it is from sunrise to sunset.
From that, we are coming down to the basic issues of maintenance of our system and equipment. The most important people in this area is the personnel, our staff. These are the people that bring about achievement. No equipment or infrastructure can perform on its own. It is the personnel that will have them to deliver, and so we are working in that area to make sure that our staff are fully and competently trained, with instructors from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and within.
How much cooperation are you receiving from Southeast stakeholders in respect of the Enugu airport renovation?
We are working with the Enugu State Government. They are fully in the picture. The Southeast Governors Forum has met with the Minister of Aviation more than twice in Enugu. We are working with a particular interest group led by a very distinguished gentleman, Chris Okoye, an engineer, who is endorsed by the Southeast Governors. This is a professional job and we try not to put anything out to the public that will cause distraction.
We are committed to that project. We are doing much more than the runway. Americans say: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” There is this suspicion that there is a sinister plan.What can we plan that is underhand about closing an airport with a bad runway? Our brothers and sisters are there. Foreigners go in and out. If we didn’t want to do it, why did we close it? And when it is completed, I am assuring you that it will be worth the while. It is also good for our own name as Nigerians, that we are able to do the right thing.
About the April deadline, I have made it clear to stakeholders that delivery is important, but quality delivery is more important. If I have to keep it closed till June for a good reason, I will do so. I closed it for safety and security, and I will keep it closed until I can assure safety and security. We are committed to April 2020, but if there is need for a force majeure (like in the case of Port Harcourt Airport that had to be closed for two years), what can one do? We are working towards end of March 2020.
Work on the Port Harcourt Airport runway is rather slow; some say it has been abandoned. Is this the case?
I will call it a delayed, not an abandoned contract, because the contractor is there. When you go there, you will see a lot of people dillydallying there. The contract is not abandoned.
Do you get support from organisations in terms of training?
Yes, we get a lot of support from the National Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to train our people. We also get some of our best materials to develop them to become our instructors, which is like an advanced kind of capacity building. This will ensure that whatever we do with our facilities and equipment, they will be in the good hands of people who have been properly trained.
Aviation is a heavily-regulated industry and so whatever we are doing, we will ensure we are not merely fully in compliance but also above performance thresholds. Once you are in compliance, you are assured of adequate safety and security, and we are striving to ensure that we achieve compliance that is above the basic threshold.
Not only Nigeria but even neighbouring countries will be able to benefit in terms of what we are doing in training our people. Organisations like ICAO are using highly-skilled individuals from other countries to train people all over the world, including Nigeria. So, we are also striving to make sure that Nigerians are capable of doing that very soon.
What is the situation with ICAO’s Cat One certification?
ICAO Certification is not about Cat One. FAA had certified the Nigerian airspace as Cat One. ICAO certification of an airport is about certifying that the airport has a clean bill, in terms of safety, security and efficiency of operation. ICAO encourages every country to, at least, have their international airports certified. It is not for all the airports. Nigeria was the first country to do two airports in Africa. South Africa did only Johannesburg, and I think Egypt did only Cairo.
We did Lagos and Abuja, and now we are working hard to do Port Harcourt and Kano. We won’t be able to do Enugu until we complete the runway, but we will do it. The comprehensive works we are doing in Enugu are aimed at Cat One certification. It is one thing to get certification and another to keep it. We have a committee to ensure that we maintain our certification.
How do you classify airports as viable and unviable?
I will give a general advice and let the state governments make their choice.The general guideline is that any airport that will have fewer than a million passengers per year is unviable. It used to be 500,000, but now it is a million per year, and this is based on statistics and data, not sentiments. According to ICAO standards, for you to break even and make profit, you need at least a million persons using the airport per year. We have some airports that have 10,000, some 20,000. But it is not everything you can judge in black and white.
If you look at our population, we have very few airports. I think the challenge before us is to see how we can motivate or stimulate traffic, and that has a link to the economy. I prefer to unviable airports than not to have none at all. The potential is there. We just need to provide the enabling environment. While we wait for that time, somebody needs to nurture the sector like a baby.
The general guideline is that any airport that will have fewer than a million passengers per year is unviable. It used to be 500,000, but now it is a million per year, and this is based on statistics and data, not sentiments.
That is the job of FAAN. Given our population, we need to cultivate these airports. I know they are unviable, but when I look at the overall national interest, it is better than not having the airports. So, when a governor wants to build an airport, I give him information to guide him. I don’t say do it or don’t do it. It will surprise you to know that 19 out of our 22 airports are not viable. When you have 20 businesses and only two are bringing in profits, you don’t have money. But let us have the airports first and find ways of making them more viable.
How about the insecurity of our airports, especially the problem of livestock straying into tarmacs?
We know that we have people committed to sabotaging national security. If you don’t believe in that, then you have already compromised the safety of the airports. There are definite inside threats. You cannot tell me a criminal will have heavy equipment, infiltrate our system, cut heavy cables and go without stealing. Sometimes we just see the bodies of people electrocuted trying to cut cables and we send their bodies quietly to their families without making noise. But we are working very hard to fence the airports, increase patrols and install surveillance cameras.
How could a man be caught on camera trying to get into an Azman Air engine at the Lagos airport?
FAAN’s aviation security took him to the hospital and it was discovered that he was mentally-deranged. His brother told us they had already tied him up and taken him to their village but he escaped, came back to Lagos and accessed the airport from the Agege Motor Road end while construction was going on. But I can assure you that our security around the airport has been beefed up. The pilot was smart and stopped the engine before he climbed it or else if he had gone to the back, the heat and power of the engine would have flung him 20 meters away, and if he had gone to the front, it would have sucked him in.
Can Lagos have an airport as large as that of Dubai or Heathrow?
Number one, Lagos can easily have it. Number two, Lagos has the potential. Number three, it is already being planned. Within the next two years, you will see things in Lagos. The International, MMA2, GAT and even this bus stop here will be linked up. The plan is already in place.
What are the personal challenges?
We just need people to be trained and to have the right attitude to work. Attitude is everything. You may have the best brains but with the wrong attitude, you will not achieve anything. If you have the dullest people around you, if they have the right attitude, they will learn if you train them. So, for us, it is attitudinal change and training. But the attitudinal change is more important because we know how to conduct the training.
Overnight, you can get qualification after the training. Training is one plus one you get two. But an attitude issue, trying to break cultural, religion, performance-sensitive culture, is very difficult. If you are not itching to perform, no can never do much no matter your qualification. For me, it is how well you perform, not how well you are trained.