Since his appointment as managing director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, in May 2019, Capt. Rabiu Yadudu has demonstrated rare leadership qualities aimed at repositioning Nigerian airports.
In this interview, Capt. Yadudu speaks on the impact of covid 19 to the aviation industry in 2020, what airport users should expect from FAAN in terms of safety, security, efficiencies in 2021, collaboration with other agencies to tackle the more deadly second strain of covid 19, the reconstruction of the old terminal in Lagos, lack of transit facilities at Murtala Muhammed International Airport Lagos, among other issues.
Franklin Ihejirika reports
How is FAAN collaborating with other agencies to tackle the more deadly second strain of covid 19?
In aviation, we like to keep it simple, we are not a health agency, so we know that there is a pandemic, this new strain from all intent and purpose is just another variant of the corona pandemic. So we try to maintain and enforce our protocols and we monitor all the relevant sources of information within the country such as the NCDC, PTF on Covid 19 and also monitor international information and other guidance from relevant agencies like ICAO, ACI so that at the end of the day we are sure that we implement the local ones and the international ones also, and if there is any need for enhancement of our protocols, these are the sources of information that guides decision making processes. Unless there is any information that is official that warrant us to do certain thing differently we avoid jumping into conclusion without proper guidance. The protocols are there and what we do is to improve on them as time and circumstances demands and according to information from the relevant sources I mentioned earlier. Do these we believe we never go wrong.
Assessment of the industry in 2020
The aviation industry was devastated by the covid-19 pandemic and was very distressing on our finances. It impacted on almost all aspect of aviation.
How has FAAN been able to recover from it?
The recovery will take a long time to be fully achieved, but from the beginning when you have a pandemic, it is a force major, when you are in a bad situation like that, there is pretty much nothing you can do to stop it alone because you are operating within a system, aviation industry has many components, the airport is just one of those components. So when the entire component is affected by one thing, the only thing we can do is to try to minimize the effect of the pandemic by strategic implementation of a lot of innovative ideals to make sure that while the pandemic is going on you minimize the effects and when it goes finally by the grace of God, you have strategically positioned yourself to be at a higher pedestal that you wouldn’t have been if you had not implemented all those strategies. So we concentrated on innovative strategies that we know will assist us to minimize the effects during the pandemic and to make us come out much better and we achieved a lot of these through the composition of committees to assist us in streamlining our operations. Committee to assist us to be more efficient in our revenue generation and collections. A committee that assist us to enforce the covid 19 protocols because they are on ground and in our operations everything that happened at the airports was their responsibility. So set up committees to assist in implementing and enforcing all these protocols because if they have not implemented the way we meant them to be, and enforced, the natural effects would be that there will be a lot of compromises at the airports, our people will not be safe and we cannot tolerate that because the people are our primary assets and of course our various stakeholders will be affected, primarily passengers and all that you know will undermine confidence in the aviation industry, confidence is key and without confidence there will be no aviation, so we wanted people to feel that when you get to the airport, you are not compromised, you are safe and protected and so far nobody is worried to go to any Nigeria airport you will notice the believe people have in the system because they felt there is no any sort of compromise, so when we sustain that kind of level of confidence, the industry will go on and when that happens, sooner or later the pandemic will be over by the Grace of God and we will be in a position to quickly recover. So we have to protect ourselves and our businesses by countering and protecting ourselves against the pandemic and we did a lot to protect businesses by implementing strategies that will assist efficiency and performance.
Concentrated of effort on passengers, what about cargo terminals?
At the beginning there was a bit of neglect but our attention was drawn to it around May last year and we promptly implemented the same protocols at the cargo terminals but of course there are deviations and variation because of the nature of businesses there. If you go to any cargo terminal you will discover they are pretty much covered the same way as the passengers terminals are especially now that the cargo operations is seeming to be much more significant in our operations. The cargo business wasn’t much affected during the covid, if not for the national lockdown because they don’t carry passengers so there vulnerability are not as much as those of the passengers. That was why I felt that let do as much as we can just like airlines are doing across the world by strategizing and incorporating more of cargo businesses into their operation, so the airports also we are strategically working to ensure we improve our capacity and reorient our business to make sure that the cargo aspect is pretty much enhanced. We are working to ensure it improves constantly because it is one aspect of operations that was not greatly impacted by the covid-19 and what more, during the lockdown, most of our flights came through the cargo terminals. A lot of medical supplies, equipment and evacuations came through cargo operations. Now we need the cargo even much more that before.
The Lagos new terminal and structure obstructing the expansion?
It is part of the nature of our operations, in airport operations every time you are bound to have challenges, those that you expect and those that suddenly come up without warning, we are working with the owners of the businesses to relocate them. We have already identified locations, we are working to arrive at a formula that will guide us to achieve the relocation, one that is acceptable to both parties, and even with those terminals, we have already devised a way to operate in the new terminal even while they are there. You can see there is the boarding side has left and right sections, I think we can still use one side while the other side is under construction as the terminal hangers are being relocated.
In Abuja we started that way, we are using the left side over there, so I thing even in Lagos we can replicate same as we still about four passengers boarding bridges on the left side. And if we have even an emergency, not even an emergency, if you are really in need, nothing stop you from doing remote passengers boarding.
The passengers will come down through there when the aircraft is not there, they get transported by buses. If you go to Ethiopia, they have the largest airline in Africa but most of boarding when you transit through Addis is by remote boarding. So if we have 4 boarding bridges on the left in Lagos and we really need to operate more, we can do remote parking. Passengers will go down, join their buses and go and board their flights pending when we achieve the relocation of the two hangers on the right side. Technically now we are in a position that we can commission the terminal, once it is ready, we commence operations in phases on the left side and make the possibility of remote parking. It is generally looking good but we preferred if they didn’t go through these problems but now that it is here, we are making a lot of progress in addressing them.
The reconstruction of the old terminal?
We already have a plan and the Minister of Aviation is working to ensure we achieve the reconstruction and rehabilitation of that terminal. We need to reconstruct, refurbish or rehabilitate the old terminal because it is really outdated and the facilities and the structure itself, we need to find a way to modernise it because if you look at airport designs in the 70s is very much different from the way it is now so that is why I said maybe we reconstruct or redesign the terminal as much as possible. The good thing is that a few years ago, JB already submitted a proposal; we are comparing that proposal with other possibilities, proposal for the reconstruction was already submitted last year. It is receiving attention from the government.
MMIA as a hub and lack of transit facilities?
That is a an important consideration for us, to have a hub to operate it efficiently, you need these connectivity, well in the first instance, we already have a committee to have this, and part of the success of that committee is that we have a linkage between the old and the new terminal, it was completed last week, it is not commissioned because the terminal itself is not yet commissioned. We have a proper linkage now between the old and the new buildings and talking about connectivity between the internationals and with the domestic, we are working with government, we have designs for the most suitable ways to achieve the connectivity, buses and even a light rail proposal. But right now we are at the development and planning stage. We have the proposals already, on Monday we even had a meeting with some of the companies bringing proposals, these are concepts that we studied and decide which one is the best by our team, the government and the ministry representatives and make sure that at the end of the day we arrive at a decision that is very practical and of course cost efficient for our operations. We have connected the two internationals, now we want to focus on how to seamlessly connect them with the domestic terminals.
All things being equal we expect to have Kano commissioned before the 20th of this month, including Port Harcourt and even Enugu. All the three remaining internationals, we are working to commission them before the 20th. That is our plan but of course you plan and there could be difference because we need the businesses but of course our operations are pretty much going on but the numbers are down, only about 30-35 percent but when we open more it will be better and better service for our people, and for us at FAAN it will mean more businesses and our stakeholders.
Increase in PSC?
We are utilising the fund pretty much the same we have been utilising them, we operate, maintain and manage these airports, we pay our wages, that is the same utilisation and the expected improvement in revenue has been achieved. The only drawback is that we have achieved it on the 25-30 percent operations we are having now due to the covid 19 pandemic. Without this pandemic it would have been 100 percent improvement. We are doing 25-30 percent and achieving the desired benefit on the much reduced percentage but it is better than if we have to recover on the old formula of the N1000. These are apart of why we decided to restrategised to work together to ensure that we come out of it at a higher potential and this is one of it.
Improving non-aeronautical sources of revenue generation?
We are already working in that direction. We went fast thinking even before the advent of the covid-19 because years ago we started working to see what we can do to improve it. It is one thing to know and identify a problem and start working to resolve it but seeing noticeable result do take some time especially as some aspect of the non-aeronautical naturally done seems to have a lot of traction in West Africa because if you look at the airport companies outside Africa, most of the non-aeronautical comes through retails, shopping and then most importantly parking. But cultural issues made the parking not that recoverable because we don’t have the culture of coming into the airports and parking your car for one week, one month until you return. Our tendency here is that you come with your family members to drop you and then return with the car, so it will take a lot more time for us to start achieving much in terms of parking, but we are working, we are improving our car parks, in Abuja we already have the Amuta car park, we are automating them to position ourselves, with the data on ground, we will achieve much in that aspect in the very near future. We are working with government and the travel agencies, hotels to see what we can do to unlock the full potential in non-aeronautical. We are building capacities in parking, retail, shopping and automations to reduce leakages.
VIPs who violated the Covid-19 protocols last year?
Investigation was going on and at one time we handed over to the NCAA. So many things we do at the airport we do following procedures. What we do is we detect and after doing our own internal investigation, we hand over to NCAA to conclude. Similarly even if it is other crimes that are even much more serious, because this is a violation, we could arrest, document and hand over to the police or EFCC as the case may be if it is relevant financial violations or crime. We have government agencies within the airports that are appropriately empowered to proceed from where we leave because we don’t operate beyond the confine of the airport environment. In this instance, the cases are with the NCAA.
What should Airport users expect from FAAN in 2021?
They should expect much better services in terms of safety, security and efficiencies of our operations.
Last year it was very demanding but we are grateful to all our staff, stakeholders and passengers themselves because there was over 90 percent compliance to all the safety protocols and processes we put in place. We received letters of commendations and reactions on the social media expressing positive views on how we did very well in our activities and the cooperation was exemplary. We use this opportunity to call on our stakeholders to please maintain the same amount of commitment and dedications to ensuring that our protocols laid down to protect everyone against the covid-19 is observed, protected so that the aim is achieved. Once there is compromise, it undermines confidence in our operations, it erodes confidence in aviation, not only FAAN but airlines, various handlers, shops operators and everyone and all aspect takes a hit and blow. We assure them of the safety of their activities across our airports because we have given our staff the best trainings to operate in any condition, last week they received training from WHO. If we don’t train staff, they cannot protect themselves let alone our stakeholders. When people come to the airports, they should count on us to assist them go through their boarding facilitation, we have staff trained in that aspect but training alone does not deliver protection. We call on people to please understand and cooperate so that we can achieve the desired benefits of being protected. This is key and we have been getting that but we must not relax, the pandemic is still very much around.