Dunoma: Concession of Airports Will Create More Jobs
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 develo
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