We want to know what CPC has been doing in terms of service delivery, customer relations, which has been so lacking in airlines, because I know recently your agency talked about that. Has there been any improvement on service delivery by airlines in recent times?
I will say two things; there has been some improvement but there is still a lot of challenges and we are confronting those challenges. As a matter of fact, about a week ago, I sat in a meeting with the NCAA and airlines operators and obviously the meeting was a collaborative meeting on how to address consumer issues in the industry. And what I seem to be hearing from a lot of the airlines, were that there are challenges on how they do their work, infrastructural challenges, regulatory bottlenecks. But what was clear to me and what I conveyed to them is, regardless of all these challenges, I think that airlines have to measure their responsiveness and sensitivity indexes with respect to their consumers. One thing is that they don’t even have the appropriate mechanism for people to call in and have complaints resolved. So one thing that I thought happened at that meeting was that it was a frank conversation and while I got a lot to understand the deficits that constitute challenges to them, they also got to understand the soft infrastructure issues. Because ultimately the consumer issues are primarily soft infrastructure issues. Airport and the airside or the terminal side; their experiences are vital to consumer experiences also, even if you have the best airports but there is poor responsiveness, then, consumers will still be displeased. And airline industry is one place where you can easily satisfy consumers. Nobody wants to fly when it is unsafe to fly, so if there is a delay for a legitimate safety reasons, consumers will actually appreciate that. But what needs to happen is that, first, those delays have to be for legitimate reasons and your responsiveness and sensitivity to the issues must be such that you are upfront, you provide the information and then you provide options or find a way to mitigate whatever the inconveniences that consumers will be experiencing.
In addition to that is the fact that there is a sector regulator and working with that sector regulator is going to be important for us to truly provide the kind of 360 degree protection that is required. I am also grateful that the sector regulator has agreed to work with us and has invited me to their meeting and we had an opportunity to jointly confront the airlines, so I think that is a good thing.
VAT waiver for airlines: what are the prospects and challenges?
When I look at it from the consumer stand point, it means it is going to translate to a better experience for consumers, fairer pricing for the consumer, I am all in support of it. So I don’t look at things from a tax stand point, that is more from a business stand point. But if that trickles all the way to benefit the consumers, both from a service stand point and a pricing stand point then I think it is an excellent idea.
In the period I have been there I don’t think there has been any inconsistent comment but we have a working relationship where we collaborate, we refer complaints and we address them from the two different legislative stand points. There are some mechanisms for resolutions that exist in the Consumer Protection Council Act that don’t exist in the Civil Aviation Act and then there are some that exist in the Civil Aviation Act that don’t exist in the Consumer Protection Act. All we ultimately try to do is to make sure that there is regulatory clarity for the airlines to understand what exactly they are confronted with and we also make sure that whichever approach we take is what brings the best benefit to the consumers
How does the economic condition in the country affects domestic operations in the industry?
You know very well that the environment is not conducive; so many political issues, security threats, financial issues, so for now for those of us who are still in the business, I will say we give thanks to God helping us in sustaining this momentum. It has never been easy, are you talking about the charges? We kept saying it many years back. Are you talking about the taxes, the weather, we just have to thank God that we have kept the business going.
What prospect or otherwise does the national carrier hold for domestic operators?
I will like to give them the opportunity to come out and be able to tell everybody the template, it is still being talked about in Farnborough when it comes to this country we have to sit down and ask questions.
Some people feel that the introduction of the national carrier will enable the domestic airlines come together stronger in their business, do you think so?
It is not possible because right now you know how many domestic airlines are surviving. We are only five or six carriers operating now, I met twenty-six (26) when I joined this business.
Do you feel that there will be unfair competition between the national carrier and domestic airlines?
There is definitely no threat, once you know the onus, they operate normally like an airline, the only thing is that they should not take of the government and people’s funds, it should be privately driven.
Can you tell us about the new aircraft you just acquired?
It has been one of our dreams, for you to survive in this business you must acquire assets. Assets in three layers: assets in terms of equipment, asset in terms of building and asset in terms of cash outlay. If you don’t survive in any of those areas you might not be able to survive. So today Med-View is growing, we own four airplanes at the first time and we have been leasing on one of our major business which is hajj. You have been seen foreign carriers like Air Atlanta, Euroatlantic, over ten years ago and we thank God today, in the beginning of this year I will say we stopped the business of leasing. So today we have acquired a Boeing 777-200 ER.
Has the capital market ever impacted on your operations?
You know we went on listing and we are in the stock market and this year, by the grace of God, we will do the IPO. Our shareholders have all been informed, we also informed them about the acquisition of this aircraft.
Are you looking at expanding your route network?
We have already expanded; we are not sealing consolidation. Don’t forget we are the only Nigerian carrier that flies international route, we are present in UK with four flights, we are in Dubai, we have touched all the bases and we have structure on ground.
There are many questions that need to be answered in terms of the management, the funding, the fleet. So I believe the government now needs to brief the Nigerian people on the national carrier. Rather than doing it abroad we need to come home and explain to the whole nation what is the concept. More importantly, I am interested in how the national carrier will interface with all the other airlines in Nigeria. Because remember that the government is the de facto owner of two other airlines: Arik and Aero. So this is the first time I have seen one government owning three airlines. So the government needs to coordinate its airlines strategically in terms of moving forward.
You talked about how small Nigerian airlines are, that they are fragmented and weak, how do we get out of this?
Cooperation and partnership, Nigeria is blessed with the biggest domestic aviation market on the Africa continent, bigger than South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia and many other countries. And yet we have not been able to harness this market for our own benefit. The beneficiaries are foreign airlines. Our airlines need to work together. If you have five (5) aircraft, ten (10) aircraft, it is nothing in the world of aviation. We need a critical max. Take for instance Ethiopia, they have a 100 aircraft, that is one airline, and yet we have 10 airlines here with maybe five aircraft each. We need to work together otherwise the economics of the business is not in favour of the operators. They need to come together to scale up to get a critical max. They can work together in training, maintenance, in spare pooling, aircraft acquisition. There are many areas African airlines and Nigerian airlines in particular can work together. So we need more cooperation in Nigeria among our airline brothers and sisters.
How do we build a hub in Nigeria?
We have a choice in Nigeria between Abuja and Lagos but the economic hub is definitely Lagos because that is where the economic activity is, which generates air traffic. So what we need to do is to completely and radically improve the infrastructure at the Murtala Muhammed Airport. It is a great airport but it is not coping with the current challenges of growth. There are many things which are wrong with the airport right now in terms of infrastructure, if I had my way I will build a completely new one but maybe we can’t afford it. Therefore, when we talk about restructuring, we have spent a lot of money over the past five or ten years on restructuring airports and I can’t really see meaningful, tangible benefits. There have been improvements but not in a meaningful way and if Nigeria is to move forward, if we are to build an effective hub, to improve connectivity, then we need to radically improve the infrastructure at our airports in Nigeria.
What is your take on VAT waiver?
I want to congratulate the federal government of Nigeria for waiving VAT, it is long overdue and I think the government listened to the aviation community in Nigeria and they acted favourably and they deserved to be commended for that. You know the airline industry is a very high cost industry, nobody around the world imposes VAT on air ticket, so it was an anomaly, so the government has corrected that anomaly.
What are the practical ways government can really deal with the issue of Arik and Aero because now we have three national airlines on our hand? Are you suggesting liquidation or outright sale of these two airlines?
I think the government and the ministry of aviation need to sit down and really think carefully on what they want to do with Arik and what they want to do with Aero, because they have used public fund to maintain these airlines. Effectively the government owns 60% of each of them and now you have created a national carrier, so there is a little bit of contradiction here. So we need to, as a matter of urgency, resolve what is happening to Arik. If you want to sell it to investors please go ahead and do it. Aero the same thing, I would love to see the three airlines working together, I think that will be a good strategy for Nigeria.
“SECURITY PERSONNEL THAT VIOLATES RULES OF ENGAGEMENT SHOULD BE SUMMARILY DISMISSED,” Obilana.
International Civil Aviation Organisation(ICAO) certified aviation security specialist and one-time head of the Security Department of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria(FAAN), Mr. Ayo Obilana, has called for the outright disengagement of any security personnel posted to any Nigerian airports who violates the rules of his/her engagement.
Obilana, who made the call while presenting a paper:” Funding Perspectives of Airport Security in Nigeria,” at the just concluded 22nd annual seminar organised by the League of Airport and Aviation Correspondents(LAAC) in Lagos said handling such officers with kid gloves would smear the image of the country and expose the country to danger.
The airports, he said, particularly the international ones, were places where people of diverse nationalities pass through to come into Nigeria and the security of their lives and belongings could not be toyed with.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of Selective Security International Limited, airports are strategic, not a place for security men with questionable character whose stock in trade is not in tandem with the vision of the authorities that post them to the area, stating that, terrorists study security weak points of any airport before carrying out their nefarious activities.
“Rid the system of corruption and malpractices, apply sanctions, give red card, no warning to any officer that abdicates his responsibilities to serve as deterrent to those who believe they can use their position as security officers to engage in criminal activities at the nation’s airports,” he said.
He called for periodic assessment of security processes, procedures and measures with a view to tinkering with aspects that were not yielding the desired results and introduce new ones where necessary.
On factors militating against effective security practice, Obilana identified misappropriation, embezzlement, money meant for a particular job not being accounted for, diverting it to other uses that do not enhance security performance, misplaced priority as well as procurement of substandard and obsolete equipment that malfunction within a short period of their installation, interference by powerful politicians that impact negatively on revenue collection as they are granted unnecessary wavers and ridiculous concession agreement that impact negatively on the revenue of the agencies.
He gave kudos to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria for the improvement in the training of its security personnel, urging other security agencies whose men are stationed at the airports to emulate FAAN by training their officers from time to time so that improvement in security will not be one sided.
In his book SECURITY DYNAMICS, Obilana indicated that” Security personnel can make or mar the entire system of an organisation. Therefore, they should compulsorily undergo necessary and prerequisite training for the job to make them productive in all facets of a security system. Security operatives in most organisations, nations are the first and the last contact person; therefore, it is very important to ensure the following: Tasking authority should continuously screen for elimination of misfits or bad ones among them. This calls for a vibrant pre-employment screening and background checks which is to include illegal drug use, criminal records, literacy and or efficiency levels and suitability for the job.
Training should be on regular and continuous basis for quality assurance. Briefing and debriefing regularly to promote situational awareness on the job. Operatives must be carried along on vision and mission of the organisation to which they belong. Personnel must be availed good welfare package especially those who are assigned to work at highly sensitive posts otherwise security compromise may occur. Where inter-agency cooperation is required, it must be done without compromise. Recruitment of personnel must be devoid of nepotism. Checks must be in place to curtail insider threat; watch for life style of personnel and report if he or she is living above his means. Reporting line on the company organogram should be strictly followed. Security department ‘s Chief Security Officer(CSO)should report directly to the organisation’s Chief Executive Officer.”