The managing director of Skyway Aviation Handling Company, SAHCO PLC, Mr. Basil Agboarumi needs no introduction in the Nigerian aviation industry having risen from the ranks to become the managing director of the ground handling company.
In this interview with Franklin Ihejirika at the recently concluded 2019 Accra Weizo in Ghana where the company won the best ground handling company in West Africa, Agboarumi speaks on what the award means to the company, plans to take SAHCO to the next level, expansion plans, ground handling staff colluding with drug barons to plant drugs in baggage of passengers, among others
What are your plans to take SAHCO to the next level?
Like I would say, it is professional service because that is the first thing that we have to be professional in what we are doing. After we have had professionalism, the aspect of equipment are there, I can tell you since I came on board, the last batch of equipment that we purchased are on the ship now, some are already at the seaport in Lagos going to the point of clearing. Ground handling requires equipment, so we go to the same market, the best manufacturers across the world to bring them. So we are assuring clients, ground handling consumers that they will get the best of equipment in ground handling. Also trained manpower is key and like I said, one of our greatest prides is manpower. So we will provide trained, motivated and experienced manpower to deliver ground handling services in all areas of our expertise and in all areas of our operation. And so we are promising that and we are assuring you that we will not disappoint our clients. And we will not just meet their expectations, but we will continue to surpass their expectations that they have towards us as their partners in ground handling.
What does this award as the best ground handling company in West Africa mean to your organisation?
This award means so much, it is actually confirming certain things that we have heard. You know when you work, you need a feedback, yes we have been getting awards from Nigerians, but if we had to go outside the country to receive an award, it is a confirmation of some of the things that people have said to us verbally and some of the things that we have heard, in line with the audit that we have had from other airlines that use us. You should know that most of these things are given to airlines and it shows that the public appreciates what we are doing and it is a confirmation that we should do more. Because like you said, when you are told well done for a job well done, it means that you need to do more, so that we will not have any reason for those same people that have recognise your good work to be the one that would take the big cane and begin to go after you.
What are the unique services you are bringing on board
You see I tell people, do you know the reason why somebody will come to an airport and want to travel? It is simple, good service. As long as you are in aviation , it doesn’t matter the role you are playing in aviation, whether you are a regulator, or you own the airport, or you are an airliner or a ground handling provider, or whatever you are as a stakeholders, we all have one common goal, which is to facilitate the movement of goods, either it is passenger and cargo or baggage from one point to the other. So that safe, quick and successful movement of such from one point to the other because that is what makes aviation successful. And if somebody comes to the airport or takes a cargo or baggage to an airport, the expectation is that service will be rendered. And when the service is not being rendered then we are failing in our responsibility. And I tell people, it is quick to point fingers, that it is this person but it is a chain. An airline could say it is very professional, but if a part of the chain is broken it affects the entire process. People have invested trust in us especially the airlines that we handle and one thing we have promised ourselves is that we will be professional. Because there is nothing like Nigerian aviation or West African aviation or African aviation, aviation is the same thing anywhere. That is why IATA developed audit standard called ISAGO and the same principles that is applied with a ground handling company in America, is the same principle that we are expected to meet to provide the services. So we have ISAGO certification, now we are recertified and we are going through recertification and we will continue to give professional services in line with international best services. Even when we provide these services we go the extra mile and a plus even ahead of others. That is what we are driving in Africa and that is what we are driving in West Africa and that is what we are driving in Nigeria.
Now you have gone public, what are your plans for expansion?
I tell people that sometimes it is not all your secret that you divulge to the public, but I know I have told you and I think I have said it before now that we have plans for expansion and we are big already. Even if you are a ground handling company that operates from one airport, it is enough to reckon with us, but we operate from 19 airports in Nigeria with full compliments of managers and handling staff in those areas. So that tells you one thing, it is as if we are operating from 19 nations or 19 countries, that is what it means. It is an effective management of all those stations. Because it is Nigeria, and we understand that we are looking at seamless travel in West Africa, we are looking at other areas too that we can extend services to. By the grace of God, we are looking at other products that we are introducing into the system. The stage that we are now we are not comfortable to begin to talk about them, but when we get to the level of speaking about them definitely you will know. But it is still things that are tied to travel, yes we are looking at other areas of expansion and I can tell you we are going to expand. There are so many bigger things that are coming to our head that we would want to push through. We are the only ground handling company in Bayelsa as I speak and we handle the new airline that has just come into Nigeria, that is Ibom Air. So the expansion we are talking about is not where we have already consolidated but we are looking at outside the shores of Nigeria.
Allegations that ground handlers are part of the impediments to seamless travel like flight delays, what is your response to that?
The question I would ask is how? I am meeting the chief operating officer, COO of AWA for the first time and immediately he saw me, he said one thing, he said thank you. And he told me that in all the stations they are flying, we are one ground handling company that have seriously helped them. And when I introduced my staff again, he still repeated it. So we get this feedback, if you were in my office, I would have brought out a letter that was written by a global airline player. I was the one that requested for that feedback after audit. He said currently he oversees 52 countries on audit in Middle East and Africa, that of those 52 countries he has not seen a ground handling company like SAHCO. And he said something, that even among those ground handling companies, SAHCO stands out. Sometime around April, that airline carried out an audit but this time it was documented that SAHCO offers professional standard ground handling service of excellent professional standard. And I said for that kind of organisation to have the courage to document that process, it tells you that they have worked with us and they believed that SAHCO is a ground handling company of choice. And when AWA COO was saying it to me today, I said thank you to him and he said he should be the one that should thank me. So for someone to now say we are an impediment is not correct, rather we facilitate. And I am telling you we are on everybody’s neck. By the grace of God certain things will come out very soon to the public view also, you will observe that the way the world is going is co-operation. The world has gone outside stand alone, the world is co-operating, whether you are a CAA, or airport authority, anywhere you belong, it is now co-operation. I give you an example, I was in a conference and I met the man from India, ground handling companies even with airport authority in India are cooperating, so everything is facilitation. Why do you think big airlines of the world are going into alliance? It is so that when you buy your ticket, if for any challenge that airline could not come your route, you can board the partner airline. My not able to operate today might not even be a problem for you as a passenger getting to your destination. So if the bigger airlines in the world are going into alliances, then what about us? Recently I sat down at an IATA programme, and I saw what is happening in Singapore, it is even a test case that IATA is pushing forward. From the control tower up to the airport authority, the ground handling, everybody is on one plan to ensure that the aircraft, the passenger, the baggage and cargo have free movement in a safe and timely environment. But of course you know when you talk about aviation, the first thing has to do with safety. The second thing has to do with quick turnaround. That is why when you buy a ticket and you hear that an airline has cancelled or has shifted, it obstructs your programme for that period of time. And so we try to work professionally in a safe and timely manner. I have said this before, for you to continue to have safe travel, safety starts from the ground. If you have a successful ground handling services, a lot of things can happen in ground handling but when it is successful from the ground, every other thing is just by the way in the sky.
What can you say about ground handling staff colluding with drug barons to plant drugs in the baggage of passengers?
Let me tell you something, the world is work in progress , I am not telling you I am supporting this. Even before we bring in staff into our system, we take them through a lot of security screening and so many things. Of course I can tell you that the people they are talking about are not our staff. You can go and check, I have my information on that. But I will talk as a player in the industry, even in the best regulated airport these things happen. That is why you put up agencies or structures to deal with these issues. If you trace the history of aviation, there were times, where even without an identity card you can enter into MMA and go to anywhere even up to the ramp. Drive on the ramp from international to domestic. There were times I can walk into an aircraft and nobody will ask you where you are going, but today the story has changed because the world is evolving. The noose are being tightened, the certification and so many things are changing within the industry.