interviewBy Chris Agabi
Lagos — The General Manager (Corporate Communications) of the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mr. Yakubu Dati in this interview, said contrary to reports that the Aviation Minister, Mrs Stella Oduah, was working against the economy of Kano State, the ministry has signed agreements with two airlines to fly the route. Excerpts:
There's this allegation that FAAN and the minister of Aviation are preventing airlines from flying Kano route. Why is it so?
I would like to say that the aviation industry is controlled by many factors. It is the airlines that determine where they go, based on security and other factors they may want to consider. As for the allegations made from Kano, it is totally unsubstantiated.
The airlines, Etihad and Emirates had already secured permission through the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA). It gives them the power to operate from Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt as they so wish. But for now, they are only operating from Abuja and Lagos.
We've been making efforts to ensure they expand their operations. With the current remodelling of airports round the country, it is to the advantage of the ministry to have them fly and use these airports. We want to make the airports economic hubs.
The allegation is not true.
Rather, the minister has been persuading these organisations to fly these routes. When you have BASA agreement, which is protected by international convention, there's no minister that can stop any airline from landing.
Those rights have been given and protected under the BASA agreement. Ethiopian Airways, Emirates have landing rights into Lagos and Abuja. They've started operations. They are yet to commence their cargo operations in Kano. One of the first airports that the mission commissioned was the Kano Hajj Terminal. The Sultan of Sokoto was there to commission it and expressed satisfaction with the work done. Also, the Kaduna Hajj terminal has been completed; the Abuja Hajj terminal is already done. Of the 11 airports being remodelled, six are situated in the North. This has shown a clear commitment and determination to open up a space for economic development in the North.
What's the minister doing to ensure that Etihad and Emirates begin to ply Kano and other northern routes?
In the first place, the ongoing remodelling, which is 90 per cent in Kano, is almost completed. In other states, people have started using other parts of the facility. The role government has to play is to provide the infrastructure. We are doing this. We're persuading the airlines to start using these airports. But you must realise that the airlines don't operate on sentiments. They look at the economics of the routes. They're here to do business, so they consider the passenger availability, security and several other factors. The airline business can't be looks at through the prism of politics. They're into commercial ventures, hence, anywhere they can go in, they go. We're been trying to persuade them. They form part of the minister's transformation plans where international hubs are being developed in Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt. We're encouraging the airlines to liaise with local airlines to develop our routes. For instance, Ethiopian Airlines is being encouraged to work with IRS Airlines to develop the Kano route. We want the political leadership to support the efforts being made.
When do we expect the new aircraft which will be brought in as loan to airlines arrive?
This is a very creative way of solving the problem. We live in the past when intervention fund was accessed by airlines and they use the money for different works. For instance, AMCON brought out a report which said an airline collected N45 billion, and deployed it into power sector business instead of aviation. Those are issues that came out of the investigation. The minister is looking for ways to ensure intervention funds meant for aviation go into that sector. That was what brought the brilliant idea of negotiating directly with the airlines. There are 30 aircraft being leased from manufacturers. That way, government will stand to guarantee and ensure that if an airline needs aircraft, it will collect it and formalities are done. The era of using the funds for aircraft for other purposes is gone. Only those who are serious players in the business will be encouraged to remain in it.
What are the next steps from the minister's office?
Just two weeks ago, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation Commissioned Terminal 1 of Lagos Airport. It's a state-of-the-arts terminal and people are enjoying the facilities. Ten others are being completed. We believe that before December we'll see the commissioning of all the terminals.
What we're doing about power at the airport and air safety are not visible for people to see, but it's a lot. We want aviation to be located as an economic entry point, that's aviation can contribute to the economic development of this country. That's why we created the cargo department at the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
That department is supposed to enhance simplified cargo business. More than $300bn was realised in cargo business last year. How much did Nigeria benefit? Zero. We plan to develop cargo terminals in Benue, Jos, Abeokuta from where farm produce can be taken to and exported out of the country. Israel is doing that with roses, where they produce roses and send out the roses during harmattan.
We can move our fresh oranges from Benue take them to the airport and fly them out. That does not only bring market to farmers, it also encourages them to farm, because there is a market for the produce which would provide value for what they put in. It even reduces the rural-urban migration. These are the areas we've been harping on to make aviation add to the GDP and Vision 20:20:20 project.