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Yadudu… and the new direction at FAAN

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
28 December 2019   |   4:05 am
I was director of airport operations for two-and a-half years before I became the managing director. So, most of the issues that are on ground, I’m not unfamiliar with them.


Captain Rabiu Yadudu is the managing director of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). He was appointed the managing director on May 20, 2019. From the time he came, he has not shied away from what he wants to achieve. In this interview with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR, he revealed his plans for FAAN and the aviation industry, as well as other issues.

• Enugu Airport Will Be Delivered At The Right Time
• We Are Working On ICAO Certification For Port Harcourt, Kano
• I’d Rather Have The Airports Unviable Than Unavailable

I was director of airport operations for two-and a-half years before I became the managing director. So, most of the issues that are on ground, I’m not unfamiliar with them. Prior to my appointment as director of operations, I have been an aircraft engineer. I’ve been a pilot and captain. I have a lot of experience in airport management and development. From the time I came, till now, and to the end of my time here, I’ll keep on working and striving to make sure that we achieve to the fullest, what we said at the beginning.

How has it been these past eight months?
FAAN is a service delivery agency, which means that what we do is for our stakeholders, who are diverse, ranging from airlines to handlers, passengers, even aviation critics. Aviation is for everyone. The easiest way for us to improve is by collaborating with our stakeholders to gauge our performances so that we can use what we get as feedback to fine-tune and improve on what we are doing. To that extent, we instituted a bi-monthly meeting with the Association of Aircraft Owners of Nigeria (AOL). In our meetings, we always deliberated. We made a list of critical issues that should be addressed at the beginning, I think they gave us about 21 items. When they brought the 21 items, I added seven areas that FAAN really needed to improve on.

They were happy that we called them to say ‘let’s be doing bi-monthly meetings’. For us, it is to make sure that we improved.

The second aspect is by working with our staff. In my first week here, I gave them a number that all staff could give direct information to the management. They could send short messages or Whatsapp messages through this dedicated number but whatever they advised or observed, they must put their names, staff number, department and station to guide against mischief. Through this forum, we get a lot of valuables on how to actually reach the staff at the various airports.

What do you think is the biggest issue preventing your team getting more, done?
Like I said, I would consider only two things. All the others are not important. We need people to be trained and then for them to have the right attitude to work. Attitude makes or breaks any society. If you have the best and most intelligent people, and they have the wrong attitude, you cannot rely on them, it means you cannot get the best from them. For us, it is attitudinal change and training. I believe it is the attitudinal change that is important.

To run an airport is like running a city. Every stakeholder that comes is a staff of FAAN, but 80 to 90 per cent of the people at the airport are not our staff. We have handlers, caterers, customs, airlines and taxis; so, we’re responsible for managing it. That is why our job is very difficult. It’s not about training our own but also training others. When you have a stakeholder who is reluctant or nonchalant, it is for you to know how to contend with him/her or sanction him/her and the moment you start to give sanction, if you’re not smart the way you do it, they will start spreading the news that FAAN victimised them. People will ask why but they won’t know about FAAN’s own issues on why they’re trying to sanction these ones.

Are we going to meet up with the April 2020 deadline for the completion of work at the Enugu Airport?
The work at the Enugu Airport is ongoing. I have pictures. It is not everything you see in the open. We go there on oversight inspections and we are working with the Enugu State government. The state government is fully in the picture. Southeast governors have a forum and I met with them in the company of the minister, twice I think, at the Enugu State Government House. We are working with a particular interest group approved and endorsed by Southeast governors led by Chris Okoye. I have his number and we are communicating. The important thing is that when you’re doing something critical, and you leave everything out in the open, it is not good. This is a professional affair, a professional job, and so, everything that needs to be known will be known, but there is some critical information that you cannot leave out in the open, otherwise, you’ll be distracted. The fact remains, we are all Nigerians and committed to the progress it will bring. We are not only doing runway. Let me say this, we are doing much more than the runway. It is more like a suspicion that there is a plan. What can we plan that is underhand about a runway or an airport that is giving us revenue and performing very well? Our brothers and sisters are there. Foreigners go in and out. In fact, from the beginning, if we didn’t want it okay, why did we close it? It is an important pointer that we have good intentions. It is easier to keep it operating to bring in money and we ignore the consequences. We are packaging something and they know it. It is very positive. When the job gets completed, I’m very sure it will be worth the while. We would be very glad that it was closed. And it is also good for our name and reputation as Nigerians that we were able to do this despite our interest, we were able to say, let’s do the right thing.

We are working towards April 2020, but like any practical project, we are working before April, if we can get it right. But the important thing is, I made it clear to our stakeholders that for me, delivery is very important, but quality delivery is much more important. My primary concern is safety and security. I closed it because of safety and security. So, if I cannot assure this, I better let it remain closed. If along the way, there is a force majeure, if I can prove there is a reason, I will extend it. I had already taken a hard decision by closing the airport. Remember Port Harcourt closed for two years, when it was allowed to close itself. It is a controlled work that we are doing and we are working towards end of March or April next year and I feel we are going to deliver that time, because there are so many variables — deliveries, equipment and supply, strikes — all these things are aspects that we factor in but are not easily appreciated outside. Any contractor will tell you this, even in your own house. These are all variables that are taken into consideration in planning. But with force majeure, no matter what you plan, you can only be guaranteed a certain percentage. For us, the earlier we opened, the better for business.

And the situation at Port Harcourt airport?
In case of Port Harcourt, what we have is a ‘delayed contract’, not ‘abandoned contract’. The minister spoke about this, three weeks ago. He said there are some airports that have this issue of about ‘abandoned contract’, that was what he called it, and he is attending to them aggressively. It was a job that was given many years ago. I have some of the details, but I’m very sure he has much more. Now that you have raised the issue, I will talk to him about it.

In terms of the general certification of Nigerian airports. Do we still have the category 1 certification or what is the situation on ground now?
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) certification is not about Category 1; the US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) certified Nigeria’s airspaces as Category 1. ICAO certifies airport periods not categories. FAA came and certified Nigerian and gave us category 1 airspace, which is the American system. ICAO certification is about looking at the airports and giving them clean bills in terms of safety, security and efficiency of operations. ICAO encourages all countries to certify, at least, their international airports, it is not for all airports. Nigeria has two. We are the first country to do two airports in Africa. South Africa has Johannesburg and Egypt just Cairo. We are working on Port Harcourt and Kano. We deliberately delayed Enugu for certification until we finish the runway. That’s why we staggered everything, hence I told you, we are doing everything to make the certification. Port Harcourt and Kano are next. I’m sure by the time we fix the runway, 50 per cent certification requirement will be achieved. Certification is a two-fold thing. Getting certification is one, sustaining it is the second. The ones that are certified, there is a permanent committee sitting twice monthly to ensure an audit of certified item to ensure that we don’t have open

Can there be anything like unviable airport, if a state government decides to set up an airport?
I will give a general idea and leave it for the state government to make their choices. The general guideline is that any airport that will have less than I million passengers per annum is going to be unviable. It used to be 500,000 but for now, it is one million. Less than a million passengers, forget it. This is based on statistics and data, not sentiments. For you to break even based on capital requirements and to observe the required standard of practices, there is need for a million passengers. We have some airports that have 10,000 and some 20,000. That is one aspect. But it is not everything you can put and judge in black and white. Very few airports that can make it. Look at our population. I believe that this lack of numbers is maybe because of lack of motivation, but about how we can motivate or stimulate traffic. The population of Nigeria is far too great to record these figures yearly.

Stimulating the economy is essential. In FAAN, we have set up a committee to see what we can do with our stakeholders to see how we can stimulate traffic. For me, I’d rather have the airports unviable than unavailable, because they are enablers of business. The potential is there. We can accelerate it by working with the state governments. But before that, there is need to nurture the airports, just like the baby, I think giving our population, we need to cultivate and sustain these airports. At least, the structure is there, even it is 10,000, let us see how we can grow it to 20,000 and 100,000. It will take time.

Is it right or wrong to have more airports?
I have just told you. I gave a figure that any airport with lass than a million passengers a year is not viable. It is not about my own opinion, as a professional, I don’t want to talk about my personal opinion, everybody is entitled to his own opinion even if a governor wants to do it, he is entitled to his opinion but I’m sure he has people in the cabinet and state.

I gave you a data that could prove or guide you in determining whether it is right or wrong so you have an airport that has less the 20,000 definitely, I’m admitting to you that FAAN is subsiding up to 19 airports of the 22.

Without the figure, the general idea that I gave you is very important when you have 20 children and only two are brining in revenue you don’t have money. Only the big two or three that are bringing in revenue, the rest are subsided. If not that you asked, I don’t want to disclose this but they are necessary, because it is like we are looking after our brothers by the time they grow and they become big, people will come for the last 40 years FAAN has been subsiding them.

Airport security
I cannot tell you what we are doing but truth is there are people seriously committed to sabotaging national interest.

Safety concerns about Asaba Airport. Are they still there?
Asaba Airports is not my airport. It is not under FAAN. However, we provide them aviation security and fire cover.

A sustained main power supply is very important. What do I mean by saying sustained, reliable or consistent power supply is important. It will always show one way or the other. It is also affecting other industries. Airport is like an industry. We are just a service provider. It is affecting us. If it affects the smallest ones, it is also affecting the biggest ones.

The issues are not beyond our immediate, in most of our airports, we have between three to four generators.

That is the part of solution we can offer. The best solution is to have our own power generation. Generator is not a power generating equipment; it is just to burn fuel. The solution is to generate our own power. We are working with the government to see how we can start implementing that in some of our airports, state by state. It is very expensive. You can see a problem, and you have the solution, but implementing it is not as easy as one week or one month, because a lot of planning, negotiations, due process, documentation, approval is not going to be fast-tracked for us for just three months to solve the problem.

We are getting a lot of support in terms of budget. Government is inviting us to submit problems with solutions so that they can assist us. The issue is, whatever we want to do, we submit it; follow due process, which is very good for transparency and our own protection. That’s why I’m saying we lack the support, but we have to follow the normal channel to make sure that there is transparency in whatever we do. Not only for us, but also for the government.

Can Lagos ever have the kind of airports we find in big cities where you need to take a trip for one section of he airport to another to board an aircraft?
Lagos can easily. Lagos has all the potential. It is already a big plan. Within the next two years, you will see train in Lagos airport. The minister is already working on that to connectivity between international and domestic airport. Government is set to open a bid on that. It is already in place.