The managing director and chief execuive officer of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Engineer Saleh Dunoma, in this interview with SAMSON ECHENIM, speaks on his plans for improved airport services, security and revenue generation
The management of FAAN under your leadership plans to build a second runway at the Abuja airport.; what progress have you made so far regarding this?
Well, the second runway is very important. It is key to our operations. The present runway has deteriorated so much such that we need to do major work on it to make it better. So the second runway will be necessary. You cannot afford to close Abuja airport because it is the seat of government and it is important to our economy. A committee was setup last year between FAAN and Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) and we have come out with a scope of what we want in terms of the facilities that should be included in the second runway design.
That scope has been developed, and we have also advertised both locally and internationally for consultants that will develop that scope into working drawings and bill of quantities so that we can both tender them. But we are yet to select the consultant because the process of procuring a consulting firm is what we are doing. Already, a preliminary survey has been carried out in Abuja by our in-house engineers; we have a fair idea of the location of the second runway and the facilities that we need to provide there. We need to provide link taxiways, taxiways, aprons and some other things that will make both the new and the existing facility work together as an airport.
These locations have been identified and it is part of the brief that we are going to give the consultant. So we have an approximate location, but of course during the design the tendency is that the consultant will make some adjustments in order to make sure that he optimises cost, because if you change the location then it will also affect the cost. So he will choose the best place to have the best cost for the work.
Looking at the land area and topography in Abuja, do you think you can locate the new runway in a way that the second runway can function independent of the other, unlike that of Lagos?
It is possible to do that. Although the landscape is making it a little difficult, that is a task that the consultant will have to resolve. Of course we would tell the consultant that we would want to have two parallel runways, like it is in Lagos ,so that we can have landing and take-off simultaneously in both runways, but I know that there are issues with the terrain. However, the consultant will resolve that for us.
There are projections that in the next five years you may be building new terminals for international services at those airports due to a projected upsurge of passenger traffic. How realistic are those projection s?
I do not think we would need to build new terminals so soon because the current capacities are good enough. What we have done in the new terminals is that we did not provide for offices, we just provided strictly passenger facilities. If you look at Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos and the Abuja airport there are too many offices in the terminals; so, a large percentage of the space within the building has been taken up by offices and operational space. In these new terminals it is not like that; all that we have are passenger processing facilities and shops, commercial offerings. So, a lot of passengers can be processed through that. We are also trying to link them with the existing terminals so that they can work together.
So, it will take quite some time before we start thinking of more terminals or expansion.
What is the fate of other airports where work is on going, as some of them have been in deplorable states?
You know we are working on so many terminals. Some of them were demolished almost completely and are being redesigned. Some of them as you are aware, have been completed and are in use. If you go to Kano, Benin, Owerri, all these have been commissioned. But those that are not commissioned we are looking at the resources that we have to make sure that they are completed. Just recently we paid some contractors and we are sure that they will go back to site and resume work.
Some airlines often claim that they would run a 24 hour service at some airports if there was adequate runway lighting. Is there anything you are doing to provide lighting at the runways of more airports?
Most of our airports have runway lighting. We have just installed solar runway lighting to six or seven airports in Yola, Benin, Port Harcourt, Maiduguri, and Kano. So, most of these airports that require night operations have these facilities, but what we do in order not to incur too much cost for FAAN, is to switch off power when there are no operations. We reduce the hour of operation to 18 hours, so immediately after the last flight in the evening we close the airport. We will not open it unless there is an emergency. Closure does not mean that everybody closes and goes home, no; closure means that you have minimum lighting and fewer number of people at the airport so that in the case of an emergency, we can just put everything on.
For airport certification, what is the arrangement you are making with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA)?
NCAA has given us the list of the open gaps that we need to close. We are working on those closures. In fact, committees have been set up in the two airports– Abuja and Lagos. We have assigned responsibilities to individual offices and departments in order to close these gaps. We have also given them timelines, although that will depend on resources that we are able to give them. But we are working together with NCAA, in fact they are in the committee. We are working together with them so that they see what procedures we are using in order to close those gaps.
Are you looking at concessioning some services to improve revenue generation and to bring more of the private sector investment to the airport?
Yes we are. At the Murtala Muhammed Airport, for example, we brought in an investor for the construction of the car park. We have agreed that on the completion of the car park there is going to be a sharing formula in the revenue which will be signed. This will reduce the burden on government for investing in such projects. If it is properly and transparently done, it will be beneficial to the users, the airport authority and the federal government at large. So, we are also looking in that direction in developing some infrastructure around the airports, especially those that are high revenue yielding.
We are also looking into the car park at Abuja and we are building a high rise that will be managed by the concessionaire, with whom we will share the revenue with for a period of time until they recover their money and then they transfer the facility to us. So, we are trying to encourage that in so many airports. We have also tasked our airport managers that each airport has its own peculiarities in terms of location and the culture of the people and what we think the investors might be interested in.
So we have asked them to submit proposals if they know any investor that is interested in doing anything at the airport. We have quite a number of persons that have been identified for certain projects, once we get the right investor we will go ahead and work. until we have an understanding and implement it and then it will be beneficial to FAAN and the investor.
What is your revenue drive now and how are you attaining automation in your revenue system?
Of course we have reduced cash handling drastically, I remember some years back everything we did was collected by cash but all these are not there now except of course the toll gate which is a bit difficult for us. But any other revenue is paid through the banks. Now we have International Air Transport Association (IATA), for example, collecting all the landing and parking charges and the passengers service charge on our behalf. And every two weeks this money is transferred to FAAN account.
Because IATA is clearing house for all the airlines, because they have a system already in place where travel agents sell tickets on their behalf and these travel agents pay the money to IATA. So it is easy for them to collect our money. Of course, IATA takes this money at the end of the day and shares it, part of the money is ours, that is the passengers service charge and landing and parking. So this is automatically deducted on that platform and it is sent straight to FAAN account. Now with the Treasury Single Account (TSA) it goes straight to the Central Bank, so we access it from there to pay our salaries and do other things.
Our concessionaires also, we bill them, they pay straight to our account at the Central Bank before now it was commercial bank, but with TSA it goes straight to the Central Bank. Nobody handles any cash any more, normally as we send the bill you will see at the bottom of the bill the account number, so you pay it straight to that account. So we don t handle cash, the only area that still deals with cash is the tollgate.
We have started automation at the toll gate to some extent, as we now have cards and these cards have a price and this price will cover you for certain period of time. Just like what you do with your Internet, you load something on the card, you use it and at the end of the month you need to recharge it. We have started something like that but there are people that come once in a while, but for regular airport users that is working for them. But the people that come once in a while, we need to find a way of either using their credit card but we are conducting a study and it is not yet finalised.
What is your parametre for designating some airports as viable and others unviable and what is your plan to improve their viability?
Some airports might not be generating enough revenue to pay for the entire requirements. Those are the airports that are termed unviable but it is our belief that with time these airports will be viable. What we need to do is to look at these airports and develop them strategically based on what you want them to be in future. We are thinking along that line: developing some airports as maintenance centres, for example, so that in those airports you can build hangars and technical facilities that will support the hangars. So such airports can be developed in those airports and that will bring business to those airports. While some airports are strictly passengers and cargo; some airports can be developed along the line of agricultural export. If you do that then that airport becomes viable. So we are talking to government and also planning to see that airports are followed based on what they are suppose to do in the nearest future so that the facilities you put in that airport depends on what you want the airport to be.
Do you think Lagos can ever have a very efficient perimeter fencing looking at the way people encroach FAAN’s territory; Is there any measure you have taken or intend to take to curtail their entry to your land?
Lagos has a very efficient fence now because we have two types of fence around the airport. We have what we call the boundary fence and it is the boundary fence that we have issues with. Because a lot of land encroachers have come and built houses very close to our fence and some of them in fact extended our perimeter fence to be part of their fence which is not allowed. But we have made some progress in that area, we went to court with the people that are living around Shasha and we won the case. So we are just at the verge of implementing the court decision, they are wrong and the court rules in our favour, so we are going to take action. This is a signal to other people in other locations that are encroaching on our land that one-day the same thing will happen to them.
So I am warning people that are living very close to the airport to desist from encroaching on airport land. We are working close with the Lagos government; they are going to help us to make sure that all those that are within our safety zones are removed from that place. And the Lagos state government is going to help us in getting that done. Now we have the second type of fence, which is the operational fence, that one is intact. It covers the aircraft maneuvering area, so that nobody gets access into that area except staff that have something to do there and is well equipped with a two-way radio communication other gadgets.
And these staffs are normally either maintenance or inspectors or people that are authorised to go into that operational area or security. These are the only thing people that are within the operational area and they have a reason to be there. Before they get there, there are procedures also for them to get there. They need to take permission from the air traffic controller, they need to listen and watch the two way radio between the tower and vehicles or persons, they need to have their vehicle equipped with apron pass, airside pass, amber light so that if it is in the night the beacon will revolve and they will be seen and also in the day. Within the operational fence everything is intact as required by NCAA.
Do you think that measure will curb or eliminate stowaway incidents?
Stowaway is not within the operational area; it is when you bring the aircraft to their parking bay that you have cases of stowaway. They don’t park at the aircraft maneuvering area because they are always moving. From the stories of the stowaway we have had so far, it is when they park at the hanger that you have these kinds of issues. Even the recent incidences that we have, we have reviewed our procedures and we have improved on it. That is why now, for quite some time we have not had any cases of stowaway.
Some other security operatives at the airport are not submitting themselves to Aviation Security (AVSEC) directives. What are you doing to ensure they dovetailed to AVSEC security apparatus?
I don’t believe in what you are saying because every security agent that is at the airport has a specialised responsibility. AVSEC provides general security, Customs have their own responsibility, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), State Security Service (SSS), all of them have specialised responsibility and everybody should be on top of what they are doing in terms of their specialised responsibility at the airport.
But FAAN provides the general security, so FAAN does the entire passenger processing. Now if any arrest is made depending on the kind of offence the person has committed you normally take it to the specialised security agency that is at the airport. And this is working perfectly, I am not saying that we don’t have areas of dispute but these areas of dispute are things they resolve. Of course, if you bring people like that to work together the tendency is that there is a lot of overlapping in responsibilities and then there are little conflicts here and there.
But the security committee in each airport is a forum for them to resolve these issues. I have not heard any issue that has come to me that is irresolvable, they have always resolved their issues and they are working together.
Let us talk about your anti-corruption plans. How is your partnership with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to wipe out corruption at airport working out?
Very fine. We have a team of our officers headed by our general manager for administration and we have a team also at the airport and these teams go out always to look out for bad practices. The ICPC also has covert and overt team going round to look at what is happening and they can make on the spot arrest. Even that alone sends a signal to all the workers at the airport that somebody is watching over your shoulder on what you are doing. So this has gone a long way in addressing some of the bad practices.
We also have the airport security committee headed by the airport manager. So they work together through that committee to do a lot of things in terms of watching their procedures, what they need to do, what they need to put in place in order to improve new measures or what measure they need to review. Other security agencies are not under us but we collaborate a lot through that committee and we have airport facilitation for the team. Recommendations of the committees would be tabled and if it has to do with aviation security, aviation security will take note and make corrections. If it has to do with Customs, Immigration, they will take note and make corrections. So that shows you the level of corporation that we have with all the security agencies at the airport. -Leadership