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FAAN and a desirable flight path to the next level [opinion]

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Lagos airport runway opens after Azman Air aircraft landing incident

By Dan Aibangbe

IN my long experience as a public policy watcher and commentator, one of the major Achilles heels of public administration has been the tendency to put the proverbial square pegs in round holes, mostly for the wrong reasons of political expediency and parochial interests. This phenomenon, hitherto, had pervaded the Nigerian polity, not sparing even the somewhat elitist aviation industry, especially the regulatory ‘triumvirate’ of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.

But when in May 2019, a new helmsman emerged to steer the affairs of FAAN, the average Nigerian was oblivious of the event and the possible beneficial changes that would follow. The new incumbent, a veteran of the system, no doubt, was eminently qualified with veritable track record. He came with something a bit unusual in the ordinary Nigerian Civil Service – he was prepared for leadership and change management. He had a clear vision and mission to accomplish. He was both a professional and a technocrat. His name is Captain Rabiu Hamisu Yadudu.

The new helmsman settled down to the task in the shortest time possible, having the backing of a familiar Management Team used to his high-paced style. The team began to check off an impressive set of milestones in alignment with the peculiar requisites of the unusual period of COVID-19. And I began to take a particular interest in journalising the changes and developments. The arrowheads of strategic direction in the aviation industry worldwide are safety, security and then comfort/ambience, in that order of importance. But to the general public, the order of preference is reversed, hence the need to manage the delivery.

Over the last two years, most of the activities, objectives and developments within the purview of FAAN have been carried out with a central theme of customer-centrism. For those who may be unaware of this business philosophy, it simply entails doing things with the customer’s best interest in mind or ensuring the customers’ experience is optimised. It also ensures that the internal customers’ productivity is optimised.

This strategic approach has been inculcated in designs, processes, protocols and orientation of staff as a total package from the last 20 months in FAAN. The new orientation formed the central theme at staff engagements during the unprecedented nationwide tour of duty carried out in the last two months of 2020 by the Management Team led by Captain Yadudu. The blitzkrieg covered a whooping 21 airports within a few weeks. It was an exhaustive and all-inclusive tour of duty.

The team traversed the length and breadth of FAAN locations, facilities, installations and developments, taking stock, motivating staff and stakeholders with the central theme of charting a new direction of customer-centrism. The focus was on improving staff efficiency through better competencies, motivation and redirection towards the customer journey through the entire FAAN services bouquets. The addition of passenger luggage scanners came quietly over a year ago, but this noiseless piece of equipment has reduced boarding time and stress for passengers, as well as increased the capacity for crime detection. Coupled with adequate training and motivation of the FAAN security personnel, crime prevention and detection has become seamless.

Recently, routine scanning uncovered suspects ranging from illegal arms to financial crimes such as ATM cards trafficking. Apart from the fact that these stricter protocols are yielding results, it shows that there may not really be a need for the physical presence of multiple security agencies in their full complement of personnel, rather a single team of specialists will suffice. The new focus can now shift to developing such compact efficient teams and harmonised processing systems (similar to the Single Window ASSYCUDA).

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All that is required is high integrity based on quality training and adequate motivation in addition to a harmonised protocol that takes care of interests of all the agencies. The ultimate system would be less personal, less obstructive and more result oriented. The natural result of better crime detection is to deter criminals. Those who insist on crimes would be detected at the departure end and the crimes are now domesticated rather than internationalised.

This helps to better manage the national image, identity and ultimately preserve the integrity of the Nigerian citizen. In the last two years, there have been unprecedented upgrades to the nation’s aviation infrastructure, ranging from runways to terminals as well as technical equipment. Some of these are even brand-new developments such as the Akanu Ibiam International Airport. We also have that of Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, completed, operational and awaiting commissioning. The new second terminal at MMIA Lagos is also at advanced stages and would have been completed, but for COVID-19 disruptions.

The Enugu Airport case was a different ball game. The airport became a theatre of projects and received a near complete facelift, upgrade and remodeling. The runway was completely resurfaced. The biggest administrative building in Nigeria airports was built from scratch; the water supply system was upgraded to resolve the perennial challenge of water shortage; a perimeter fence complete with access road and a toll gate was built; a brand-new airport hospital was built; the conveniences at the terminal building were overhauled and CAT2 Airfield Lighting System installed. That was a whole lot to accomplish in such a short span of time.

Apart from upgrades, a number of take-overs (acquisitions) are either on-going or concluded. The general idea is to enlarge the airspace for prospective economic boom envisaged in the new normal after COVID-19. The plethora of improvements to facilities have not gone unnoticed. In fact, they have yielded immediate dividends such as certifications, accreditations and recognitions. For instance, the FAAN MD, Captain Yadudu, has been appointed member, World Governing Council of the Airports Council International, ACI. At the same time, the MMIA has received its certificate of accreditation from the same body, the ACI.

In line with its Airports Health Accreditation Programme, the Airports Council International has accredited two of Nigeria’s International Airports – the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa. This, no doubt, is a quantum leap! To further affirm the status of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja as a world class facility, the airport has been handed the Airport Service Quality Award 2020. The airport has now commenced retraining of Marshalers ahead of NCAA’s Audit for recertification.

To the uninitiated, these achievements may appear meaningless, but they are the door openers to international patronage, investment and growth. No wonder a lot of airports (cargo and passenger) as well as airlines are springing up across the country at a time when the industry is shrinking across the world. These developments are also instrumental to the award of international route to our local airlines.

This is another area of great achievement attributable to the FAAN helmsman. Much as the pandemic came unannounced, the nation recorded commendable performance, especially when viewed against the backdrop of what transpired in the global community. In fact, the rapid adaptation of recommended protocols would have yielded better results, but for the innate propensity to cheat, demonstrated by some unpatriotic travellers, who refused to abide by the civilities entrenched in self-isolation and contact-tracing documentation prescribed. Nevertheless, that was not enough to deny FAAN due accreditation for the four international Airports for emergency evacuation during the COVID-19

In full recognition of the role of a highly motivated and empowered workforce in the delivery of the noble strategic objectives, staff training has taken a new dimension. Instead of relying solely on foreign training with limited staff inclusion, FAAN has brought training home to the entire workforce. The existing facilities in Lagos have been so upgraded to become internationally recognized training center, where ICAO Aviation Security Training is obtainable. This now affords mass training and certification of staff at a much-reduced cost.

In the area of staff welfare, a world-class Dental Clinic at the Lagos Centre has been added into the mix. This will add to the smiles of the entire staff, after the FAAN hospital had earlier been elevated in terms of equipment and service level. The FAAN Musical Band has also been touched with the magic wand of top-notch training, equipping and commissioning. Despite the general meltdown in the aviation industry worldwide, the Nigerian environment is gathering momentum. The operating environment has improved with better services, regulations and governmental policy. There is a deliberate attempt to shore up performances and expand the business. This is reflected in the favourable amendment Finance Act 2021.

As we move into the future, one thing I will advise is that Government needs to create a stimulus package to boost performance of the aviation industry. The COVID-19 Pandemic has dealt a blow to aviation worldwide. However, it also presents a unique opportunity for the industry to play catch-up with what obtains elsewhere in the world, learning from the mistakes of the past. For instance, government is not expected to repeat the error of soft loans as given in the past, rather it should think of investment stimulus, such as tax incentives, matching grants for proven new investments, activation of favourable elements of bilateral agreements that are currently unexploited.

One final issue I want to delve into is that of general aviation business development. Apart from commercial travel, there are great potentials for cargo travel and tourism that are left undeveloped. Bundling of Air Transport with Tourism has a great potential for both local and international patronage.

Aibangbe, a media and public relations consultant, wrote from Lagos

Vanguard News Nigeria

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