By Captain Dele Ore
Capt. Dele Ore is chairman of the airport concession committee set up by the Minister of Aviation, Mr.Â Babatunde Omotoba, to work on the concessioning of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos; Port Harcourt International Airport, Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport and Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar, to the private sector.Â
Ore, who retired as Director of Operations of liquidated Nigeria Airways, at a recent lecture organised in memory of the late Executive Director of Nigerian Aviation Safety Initiative (NASI), Capt. Jerry Agbeyegbe, delivered this paper on what could be done to transform the nationâ€™s airports, especially the four international airports meant for handover to the private sector, in line with governmentâ€™s public, private partnership (PPP) programme.Â Excerpts:
If there was one more needed proof that government is a bad business manager, it is shown in the poor state of the nationâ€™s airports, which from inception, have been under the management of the federal government.
Often times, users of the nationâ€™s airports â€” local and international â€” go through harrowing experiences in coping with the ever dilapidated facilities. From the cooling system through the toilets to even the conveyor belts, there is evidence of decay.
For visitors and even Nigerians returning home from trips abroad, the word is the same. Nigerian airports are outdated. They fall short of global standards. Airports could still be outdated and yet functional, but many Nigerian airports are not. Not even the home sick Nigerian who arrives the Murtala Muhammed International Airport could ignore the substandard nature of the air-conditioning system and the long wait for his luggage to reach him on an old conveyer belt around which anxious people are crowded.
For the aviation agencies, the revenue they generate have been able to turn around the fortunes of the nationâ€™s airports. Government, in all honesty, will admit that apart from its inability to operate the nationâ€™s airports, it lacks the funds to modernise them.
For a start, the government has concluded plans to concession four of the airports in the country. They include the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Mallam Aminu Kano Airport, Kano, Port Harcourt Airport, Omagwa and the Margaret Ekpo Airport, Calabar.
The scheme, if well handled, will indeed, save the airports from further rot and eventual collapse. However, we urge the adoption of best practices and transparency in the concession arrangement. Unlike the problematic concession of some government agencies, this must be made to follow all known due process, as any under-the-table deal will compromise standards and ultimately jeopardize the essence of the privatisation scheme in the first place.
It is gratifying that the Chairman, Board of Directors of FAAN, Chief Ebitimi Banigo himself has declared that with the privatisation scheme, â€œwe are charting a new direction with renewed vigour. That new direction, we believe, should be embraced by all stakeholders the new direction engenders great opportunities and possibilities. Opportunities to invest, train and build for our today and future.â€
All said, the need for a measure privatization of the airports cannot be over-emphasised, just as the means of doing so is key to its overall success.
There are other concessions or partnership programme with FAAN that are commendable one of such is the Unisys/Maevis, which was almost truncated early this year. The company is providing facilities that will aid facilitation in line with IATA simplifying passenger travel (SPT) concept.
Airports are the gateways that will open major cities in Africa for the development of tourism and investments. In Europe, there are other alternate modes of transportation, but here we have no option than to develop the airports as the alternate modes which are extremely time consuming, stressful and risky for serious investors or tourists. Globally, national and local governments worldwide are abandoning responsibility for costly airport development, while filling the treasuryÂ coffers, by either concessioning or privatizing to bring in outside operational expertise, and this is practically obligatory in all cases.
In less developed countries like ours, governments should be tilting towards building and enhancing the transport system rather than just off loading the assets, This is to avoid a situation whereby we move from ugly state-owned airports to even uglier privately owned airports. It is noteworthy that most reputable private sector investors would not consider buying an airport with fewer than 1 million passengers. This is why airports have often been sold as a package â€” good and bad, small and large, domestic and International.
By setting up the Infrastructure & Regulatory Commission, the government has made it clear that it is taking a concessionary posture through PPP is about the only option open to government, considering FAAN has never made profit, publish an audited account nor invested financially or managerially beyond Nigerian shores when compared to their counterparts in South-Africa, Ethiopia e.t.c.
In achieving the objective government should as a first step invite reputable international airport management companies, who will often achieve what governmentsÂ can no longerÂ takeÂ care of improvements in capacity, and efficiency.Â These private investors and internationally recognized airport operators with track records who can be sourced and verified by a click on the mouse, should bid for and act as advisors or management consultants to government within a limited time frame.
One thing is certain, airlines, regulators, agencies and other airport users need to get used to the idea that airports are shifting away from the traditional concept of public entity and moving into private ownership in whatever form this might be. Presently, there are over 20 airports in the stock exchange world over and the number is increasing.
ObigationÂ to provide air navigation facilities
The Chicago Convention contains provisions of a kind not included in any earlier convention designed to secure that aerodromes and other air navigation facilities of the standards laid down under the convention must eventually be available for international air traffic in the territories of all contracting states.
However, the obligations undertaken by the contracting states are subject to limitations and safeguards which make it impossible for a state to be compelled to take action against its will. Thus the obligation to provide airports and other facilities is fulfilled by the contracting state so far as it may find practicable.
Each state party to the Chicago Convention undertakes to make available, so far as it may find practicable, aerodromes in its territory. The convention provides that, subject to the stateâ€™s right to designate the airports within its territory which an international air serviceÂ may use, every airport in a contracting state which is open to public use by its national aircraft must be open under the same conditions to aircraft of all the other contracting states.
The convention further provides for equality of charges and stipulates that all such charges must be published and communicated to ICAO.
(a) Â Â Â Customs airports
Save where aircraft are permitted to cross the territory of a contracting state without landings, every such state may require aircraft entering and leaving its territory to land at, or depart from, an airport designated by that state for the purpose of customs and other examinations. All aircraft are bound to comply with such requirements.
In so far as it is practicable to do so, each contracting state undertakes to lay down customs and immigration procedures in accordance with the practices which ICAO may establish or recommend from time to time in pursuance of the convention. Aircraft on a flight to, from or across the territory of another contracting state and fuel, oil, spares, equipment and stores on board such aircraft, as well as spares or equipment brought into a contracting state for use in such an aircraft, are to be admitted free of customs duty.
(b) Â Â Â Facilitation
Similarly, each contracting customs and clearance.
Air Navigation facilities and ICAO
Where the ICAO Council believes that the facilities provided by a contracting state are not â€œreasonably adequate for the safe, regular, efficient and economical operation of international air services, present or contemplatedâ€, it must consult with the relevant state and other interested states in order to improve those facilities and it may make recommendations for that purpose.