interviewBy Chris Agabi
Lagos — Following the conversion of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja to a domestic airport, the brand new international airport to be constructed will be ready in December, the Minister of Aviation Princess Stella Oduah disclosed in an interview with journalists on Monday at the commissioning of the General Aviation Terminal Abuja. She also spoke on the planned national carrier, the 30 aircraft to be purchased by Nigeria, aviation fuel issues and more. Excerpts.
How much did it cost to build the Abuja General Aviation Terminal (GAT) facility and how did you manage all the intricacies that came with the project?
I don't know the intricacies you are referring to but in a building, you have to conceptualise it, draw and design it, then build it and follow the other processes involved in building. There were no intricacies at all. The truth is that we had to have a General Aviation Terminal which supports aviation business. That wasn't in existence yet the business is growing. Government would like the business to grow far more than what we now have and the only way we can achieve that growth is to provide infrastructure, the policy and the procedure to drive such a business. That is what we have done. We have also finished the general aviation policy. Hopefully by next week, we will have a meeting with private jet operators. There, they would know the policy that guides what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to do it. We do have a lot of grey areas in our general aviation policy but we will remove all the grey areas in the policy and make them operational.
On the cost, it is difficult to give you the full cost just yet but it's a fraction of the Lagos cost (N648 million). This is just phase one, the phase two is coming behind. We are just waiting for the Air Force to vacate so we can commence the phase two. It really should be more elaborate than this. Currently, we have about 50 private jets. We are estimating that by next year, we are tripling that number. But if we will do that, then we need a larger GAT than this. But the entire cost of the project wouldn't be going beyond N500 million at the end of the project.
Since the liquidation of Nigeria Airways, the catering business angle has been in limbo. What is the plan of the government to resuscitate the catering business so the airlines can be adequately served?
When Nigeria Airways was privatised, there seemed to be some documentation errors and catering may have been part of it. Our legal team is looking at it to see how that can be resolved. Until that is done, there is nothing we can do about that. Our interest also is to ensure that we remove that part of it and resuscitate it as an ongoing business because we do need catering business built up for the airlines' use.
The Deputy Senate President Senator Ike Ekweremadu has called for the establishment of a national carrier. How far have you gone and how soon do we expect a national carrier?
We started the clamour for this national carrier because we believe it is the right thing to do. We have gone very far and we are waiting for the final approval on the transparent way the core investor would be working and the rest of the processes. As soon as we get it, we are good to go. As to when exactly, I can't say. But I am hoping that before the end of February, we would publish some advertisements calling for the expression of interests for core investors.
On the planned acquisition of 30 aircraft, what is the position now and what type of aircraft are you looking at?
Regarding the 30 aircraft, the essence is to have proper and adequate utilisation of the intervention fund. We all know what happened to the initial intervention funds; we don't want a repeat of that. The 30 aircraft would come; hopefully more than 30 will come, depending on the interest of the manufacturers. Mr. President has approved the platform that we would use. But we will still have to work with other government agencies like the Central Bank of Nigeria for us to go ahead. We are almost at the last stage, so hopefully we will soon commence. The programme will be efficient. Whether it would be Boeing or Embraer, I don't know. But we do have certain yardsticks that whichever aircraft we use must meet. The aircraft must be efficient and the fuel consumption must be efficient too. The manufacturer must also back us up with maintenance. Those are key indicators that would guide us on the aircraft type we would finally settle for.
When you assumed office, you constituted a committee to look into the sustained rise in aviation fuel. The committee had completed its report but it has been silent. What do we expect in terms of aviation fuel price decline?
The committee has come up with its recommendations. We have studied it and have also made our own recommendations. It doesn't stop on our table. What we need to do, we have done. We are still waiting for the response. We would work in conjunction with the NNPC as part of the way forward. We have selected approved vendors who would guarantee us and allow us to benchmark the purchases. You have to buy fuel in advance, that means there must be a certain process and a buying process. This takes time because the people you are buying from have to agree. More infrastructure have to be put in place too. If you don't put all these in place, it wouldn't work. For instance, if you are in Yola, there should be a depot there to have guaranteed stock to replenish on time. This gives you price control.
Should Nigerians look forward to reduction in aviation fuel so price of air fare would reduce and more Nigerians can fly?
Nigerians should look forward to more competitive pricing system that would ensure they pay what they are supposed to pay. Nothing more, nothing less!
What is your plan to build an international terminal in Abuja since the hitherto international terminal is now domestic terminal?
The international terminal in Abuja is still going through remodelling and rehabilitation. What you have seen is A and B, C is yet to come. The C is the international part of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. By December 2013, it would have been ready. What you are using now is the A&B and it is completely domestic and not international.
The runway lighting is still a temporal facility, what are you doing about it?
The priority for us in 2013 and beyond is that every of our airports will have standard runway lighting.
Talking about the proposed cargo terminals, are you engaging relevant stakeholders who would drive it like the ministry of Agriculture, the state governments and the farmers who would feed them with farm produce?
We are working with the ministry of Agriculture because it is the ministry's responsibility to choose the crops, to choose the site and choose the team that we are going to work with. Location of where their processing unit would be is key to us because the proximity to the cargo terminal is very important. For the state governments, we are doing a tour this year for them to understand the economic benefits of perishable cargo and how that would enhance their earning capacity and how that would transform their rural development process. Everyone is in tune with this because it is the best rural transformation platform. It gives you access to international market, changes your Naira earnings to Dollar earnings but most importantly, creates employment and has huge value chain along the line that will create huge wealth for the state and the local government.