‘We inherited facilities that have not been rehabilitated in 40 years’
Capt. Hamisu Yadudu is the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) that caters for about 24 airports nationwide. Yadudu, in a chat with aviation correspondents, clarifies the issues around the new international terminal in Lagos and foreign airlines, facility insecurity, infrastructural challenges, among others. WOLE OYEBADE was there.
The new terminal at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) was delivered far behind schedule. But how does one explain that foreign airlines are still reluctant to use it two months after?
The terminal is open. But the issue is that when you commission a new terminal, you have to do an operational transfer before you can move in. We (FAAN) decided to start moving in phases. We didn’t want everyone to move at the same time. If you remember, when Terminal 5 opened in London, it took others about six months because of some teething problems. It is only here that people complain about such things. Nowhere in the world will you have a perfect system. No airport operates in isolation of its environment. Aviation industry keeps evolving; when the challenges happen, they are tackled immediately.
So, the relocation is in phases. No airport system will want to relocate to a new terminal and move everybody at a go; the system will crash. We have sent two airlines there, and other ones will follow. I told them to move only the airlines that operate morning and afternoon flights so that we will decongest the old terminal gradually.
It is unfortunate that some of them (foreign airlines) said they would not move, and we are not ready to compel them yet. We just kept quiet. But you cannot be a client of FAAN and dictate to us. When the time comes, they must all move. Those that refused to move want to put us in the bad light of not having a good terminal, which is not true. You were complaining of the broken facilities and the baggage handling system. Now we have provided you with a new one, yet, you refused to move. Global aviation is all about national interest. Unfortunately, Nigerians are joining them to condemn our industry.
But there is no denying that the Lagos Airport especially, has been a security suspect lately?
We have resolved the security issue and the manifestation of our effort is on ground. On that singular incident of a mangled body that was found on the runway, there is still an investigation ongoing. We can’t make any public statement yet until the result of the investigation is out. There are lots of theories on it. I won’t dwell much on this until the report of the investigation is out.
However, the government’s protocols and due process matter in all we do. A private airport can have a problem today and by tomorrow, it has deployed the solution. We know the solutions to our problems, but we have to ensure that due process is followed. Additional issues arise when you have to import the (solution) equipment. There is manufacturing, shipping and other processes to follow. All of these may take you up to a year.
I was the Director of Operations in FAAN when we realised there was a need for total surveillance of the whole airport. I went to Munich, Germany, by the end of 2018 or so, and identified the company. They came to do lead assessment twice; marking and survey. They gave us the estimate for visual and thermal infrared cameras; visuals to cover the areas for a whole day – sunrise to sunset – and thermal from sunset till early morning. If a rabbit walks within 8km radius, which is 16km diameter, they will pinpoint it. The runway is 3.7km or 3.8km and we are buying about four of those cameras to cover the airfield.
We started procurement 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. The Chief of Staff and I went to the factory last November to ensure that what we are buying is what we are getting. The delivery will happen within the next one or two months and then installation follows. This is fully automated; it will be spanning 360 degrees. We already know the solutions to all challenges we are going through, the minister knows and even Mr. President knows, too.
In the interim, we have already set up the manual patrol. The military is going around the airport facilities for improved security. This automation is not just in Lagos, but it includes Abuja Airport. We also bought two motorised equipment. If you have any security challenges at any airport, we will drive it there and deploy it. Inside the vehicle, we have three screens that we can use to monitor and protect the airports.
You have been in the saddle for three years now. How will you describe progress at FAAN?
Within the last three years, we have embarked on major repairs of ageing equipment and components. I give you an example in Lagos – abandoned runway and airfield lighting. We are completing that this June or July latest. Also, the key elements at the Lagos Airport and other airports that are already old; we are replacing them now. Some were last replaced in 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 – disabled aircraft, baggage handling and other basic ones that the people see every day, we have started with them. The avio-bridges, we have started with them and that is in terms of infrastructure.
We set up a committee last year because we saw that most of the facilities are aged. These equipment were supposed to be replaced every 15 years, but some have gone 25 to 30 years without rehabilitation. 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 on Akure, Borno, Sokoto airports and next year, we will work on Port Harcourt, Benin and Yola. We don’t have all the money to fix all the problems at once, but we will do the entire airports gradually. So, when I leave here, those coming after me will have better airports and infrastructure to use.
What are the major challenges facing operations of FAAN?
Some of the 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 our successor will have an easier task. We are going out of our way to make sure we do our best. Now, we are fixing the runway 18L at Lagos Airport. You cannot land on 18L at night; now the contractor is back. He was supposed to finish in March, but the cables he had were of low quality and we are insisting on original ones. So, he said he would fix it by June or July.
We have contacted the airfield lighting company in Europe to fix the new ones and to overhaul the whole airfield lighting system. There was no overhauling in 42 years. So, after nine years, we are fixing some of these things that were abandoned and we are also starting new ones, including baggage handling, the central cooling system and others.
Local airlines’ operation is hard-hit by fuel scarcity and a spike in the cost of Jet A1. How much of an effect does the attendant disruption have on FAAN’s finances as a revenue earning service provider?
We really sympathise with the airlines on the scarcity of Jet A1. If anything affects the airlines, it will affect FAAN and every organisation in the industry. They are struggling to remain in business and people say they should increase prices. 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 Capt. Musa Nuhu, 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.
FAAN has completed the move from the Societe International Telecommunication Aeronautiques (SITA) to RESA Airport Data System, though with glitches in the course of the transfer. What is unique about the new service provider?
RESA is a very good company. RESA and SITA are the biggest two in the world in terms of passenger data management systems. Most of Europe is RESA and SITA, and most of the United State of America (USA) is SITA because it is an American Company. SITA was giving us only two airports and we went and negotiated an agreement with RESA that covers five 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 a departure control system in this new one.
Most importantly, the technology we have with SITA was the Common Use of Terminal Equipment (CUTE) and it was replaced sometime in 2009 with Common User Passenger Processing System (CUPPS). FAAN needs to modernise. So, we went for a newer technology and that is what RESA is offering us. This particular RESA system also has a function on revenue automation and it is the latest one being adopted by the whole world and that is what Nigeria has now.
There is an ongoing effort to decentralise FAAN’s operations, but for what purpose?
We intend to decentralise essential operations and also the management of FAAN. A lot of things are concentrated around the headquarters. 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 decentralising and each airport will be responsible for itself, but we will monitor and do surveillance of those facilities.
In the next two weeks, we will start it. We have used the last two years to plan and now, we have developed the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). About 90 or 100 items are in these. With this, the issue of laxity in the system can be checkmated. This will make us know those who are messing it up and we won’t wait till the end of the year before we take action.
Even, the welfare of our staff, we will decentralise it and the 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 five regions will get the scholarship and FAAN will make sure we fund their university education.
The decentralisation shows that the management is not ready to hold on to power. Like I said earlier, we are working on the local runway. What is the essence of having two runways if we cannot use them? I believe if not for the issues with the cables, we would have installed it in March.