By Cosmas Okereafor
Despite the adverse prevailing situations in the aviation industry globally, occasioned by the outbreak of corona virus pandemic, which led to the closure of airspace around the world, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), has remained focused on its drive for sustainable, more secure and quality service delivery at the nation’s gateways, against the challenge the aviation industry is going through currently, which Nigeria is not insulated from. This is also in compliance with all the directives of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), an agency of government whose protocols, every sectors of the Nigeria economy now relies upon heavily to operate, including the airports across the country, to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 20th March, 2020, the Nigerian Senate advised the Federal Government to close all International airports for the safety of all Nigerians and Foreign nationals alike, resident in the country when the news of the dreaded corona virus broke out. Since that time, countries of the world, including Nigeria have remained embattled due to the virus devastating impact on human to human transmission, and the adverse effect it has created on the aviation industry, which is a major source of earnings of the Nigeria economy.
The closure of the airports under FAAN management, led by Captain Rabiu Yadudu to say the least, dealt terrible blows on the revenue earnings of the authority. This is not without recourse the heavy spending on the implementation of COVID-19 protocols at the airports in line with international guidelines which hitherto was not captured on the authority’s budget abinitio. The good news is that FAAN has continued to carry out its statutory functions adequately by ensuring strict compliance, even with the new threats of the pandemic, despite the huge impact on the already lean pocket of the authority. The compulsory World Health Organization (WHO), virtual training embarked upon by FAAN among other measures was one of the major steps taken by the management during this period, to keep all workers in the organization abreast with the COVID-19 protocols. This training is still on-going, and may likely continue according to sources, until the society is completely free from the scourge of the virus. The precision at which the authority provided services at the critical stages of the lockdown especially the peak periods countries were only allowed to operate special flights to evacuate their citizens was mind blowing. This demonstrated how efficient and ever ready the authority is, under the present management, and further goes to explain that the looming second lockdown would by no means pose no major challenge for all consumers of aviation services and workers at the airports too, who already know what is required of them, by the Management and by extension, the Federal government, whose duty it is, to protect all and sundry, going in and out of the airport at this critical period. That the aviation industry is the worst hit and still in this global pandemic is not news, what is newsier is that FAAN was able to pick its pieces despite flight reduction and outright cancellation by many countries. While the cost of overhead and maintenance of critical infrastructural equipments continues to soar, the number of airlines from whom FAAN generates its revenue continues to shrinks. This excludes debtor airlines that finds it extremely difficult to pay for services already rendered by the authority as at when due. Whether an airline dies or owes, FAAN unfortunately remains at the receiving end, especially now its operations at the airports are expected to be at top notch, given the challenge of COVID protocols that requires huge cost and does not call for half measure, under any guise. For example, in the last 30 years, many Nigerian carriers have closed shops and each time an airline wounds up, all the accrued revenue for the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), automatically becomes bad debts and this leaves the authority with serious heavy financial burden. No wonder those (airlines) who try to come back, do that under different guise in order to evade payments of their outstanding, leaving the authority always as the weeping child. This trend has continued.
The airlines that operated in the past, and are nowhere to be found today include: Okada Air, Kabo Air, IRS Airlines, ADC Airlines, Bellview Airlines, Chanchangi Airlines, Dasab Airlines, Savannah Airlines, Sosoliso Airlines, Nigeria Airways, among others make the list of defunct airline brands that may not have maintained clean slates of bill with FAAN before they eventually closed shops. Since the airlines activities cannot be separated from FAAN, releasing the much talked about bailout funds as promised by the federal government for the local airline certainly would be a win- win situation for both the service providers and the operators ultimately.
With about seven thousand work force and over three thousand retirees on the pay roll of FAAN monthly, the management of the authority under Captain Rabiu Yadudu deserve every support needed from the operators and other players in the system, to remain upbeat in its services that is dynamic and continues to throw up new challenges all the time because of its global outlook. The General Secretary, Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals, Comrade Saidu Abdulrazaq explained that FAAN was the worst hit among other sectors of the Nigeria economy during this period of COVID-19 era. He acknowledged the doggedness of the authority in addressing industrial issues that could have resulted to industrial disharmony while the COVID-19 lasts. ‘’ FAAN is doing its best in observing and complying with the COVID-19 protocols at our gateways. I had travelled this time and my impression is that everyone in the system, right from the Management down to the least person is trying except that the revenue due to FAAN is badly depleted, due to the lockdown and other sundry matters that affected flights movements and operations locally and internationally for months which is still going on. I still want to encourage them to remain focused and ensure that the entrance and exit points at the airport are much more secured’’.
Mr. Uzoma Nwagu, Managing Director/CEO, Excel Cargo and Aviation Services Nigeria also commended the Federal Airport Authority (FAAN), for standing tall when the aviation industry was nearly brought to its knees in the country, a situation he admitted had not taken place as far as he could remember many decades he had been in the system. He expressed satisfaction particularly on how FAAN’s staff conducted themselves at both Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja and at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos where he said he visited. He however urged the authority to continue in that path in the years ahead.
Okereafor, a social commentator,
writes from Lagos