ENGINEER Saleh Dunoma, Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and recently elected President, Airports Council International –Africa (ACI-Africa) in this interview speaks on his functions as the new president of the continental airport body as well as ideas to make airports functions properly, ideas to tackle security challenges and went further to answer the concession question.
Sir, you have just been elected as the President of Airports Council International (ACI), Africa. Can you tell us about ACI Africa and what happened in Maputo?
Airports Council International (ACI) is an association of all the airports in the world. By wisdom of the aviation industry, this grouping is organized on continental bases. We have ACI Africa, ACI South America, ACI North America, and ACI Asia among others. These are the groupings and it is a forum where all the airports in the groupings come together to share their experiences and also proffer solutions to the aviation industry as far as airport operation is concerned. We also relate to IATA and ICAO. There is a strong collaboration between these three organizations. ACI is an association of airports, IATA is an association of airlines and ICAO is the global regulator. We work together to ensure that air services are appropriately provided in the nook and corners of the entire globe. We also work together to make sure that we adhere to standards so that we provide a level-playing ground for the industry. Normally, each region is headed by a President. Under the President, there is board; under the board, there is congress and that is the representative of all the countries in Africa. We have an article of association which guides us in our operations. As in what happened in Maputo; normally, we meet twice in a year. What happened in Maputo was time for us to elect new board and new executive. After the groupings, we have committees; these committees have to do with special areas in airport operations. We have Human Resources Committee, Safety &Security and Economic committees. Economic committee has to do with administration. These committees meet and report to the board. Every airport brings issues to the committee; the technical committee will discuss and then they will bring whatever the issues are and the solutions to the board. The board will look at it and deliberate on that. If it is something that concerns them, they will handle and resolve the issue there. But if it is something else, they will take it to ACI World where all regional ACIs report to. We take it there and there at the ACI World, we have the ACIs that are from the continental authority, which is from the continental region. They now report the issues that they want to escalate for that body. Meanwhile, all the Presidents of the ACI continental groupings are members of that board. We have a Director General who coordinates the activities of ACI World. So we bring the issues there and then the ACI World will look at it. If it is something they can resolve, they go ahead and resolve it. If it is something they need to take to IATA or ICAO, the ACI World would take that issue there for discussion and resolution. After our committee meeting in Mozambique and of course the report of the committee to board and because it is an election year, we went into the election. We first of all elected our representatives at the ACI World. Because of the size of Africa, we have two positions; those people were elected and then the advisers. We have advisers that are very experienced people. We have from the ACI World as advisers. We also elected those advisers and then Presidents and the Vice Presidents. I participated in the election and I was declared winner by the board and it was certified by the congress the following day. That was how I emerged as the President of ACI Africa. This is mostly as a result of my participation in ACI all through the years that I have been a board member. Also, the confidence my colleagues in the board have in me. And of course the way I conducted myself this period. Now what is important is that our present government has worked so hard to improve the image of Nigeria. Before this time, I wouldn’t have shown my face because Nigeria had been trying, looking at the traffic of Nigerian population, one would have imagined that all these while, Nigerians would have been heading this organization but unfortunately, and because of the politics at home. But now, present government has salvaged our image at the global village. As a result of that, it became so early for me. And again, the present Minister of Aviation, since they assumed powers, he has been travelling all over the world and that has improved our image as far as the aviation sector is concerned.
This has greatly helped us because a lot of my colleagues thought, well, Nigeria is living up to expectation as far as the aviation industry is concerned. That made my election very easy. I had support from most of the countries and I emerged the winner. This government played a role in clearing the ground for me to becoming the President of ACI Africa.
Given your pedigree as a very resourceful and hardworking team of the Nigeria Airport Association system and over the years, you have gone round; you have acquired experience in airport management. How would this avalanche of experience play out vis-à-vis the African desire to produce the best airport in the world? Again, using your experience as a tie back, how do you intend to advise the ACI to resolve some of the issues we have so as to bring development in aviation to Africa?
Well, my experience has helped me a lot. What we have done in the past are there. As a board member, I was asked to do a lot of assignments and I think they saw that I have accepted those assignments and I have also executed them in the best of my capabilities. This experience that I have over the years working in the airport association of Nigeria has helped me a lot. It has presented me as a person that has the resources to assist the ACI Africa to reposition it. I want to assure you that our board which I preside over is collaborative. There is a lot of cooperation between member countries and issues that are brought by member countries are discussed openly and solutions are proffered to it. And then, we also discuss it properly and make sure that whatever we are presenting as a final solution meets the requirement of all the states in this association. Not only that, we also go ahead and say, okay, state A or state B may not meet this kind of contribution; how do we assist them to bring them on board. How do we help them so that we can’t leave them behind? So we now proffer that kind of additional solution. So that other states can benefit from whatever solution that we were able to provide. The key there is collaboration. And all the time, we meet and discuss issues about African airports; we forget about our national interest and focus on African interest. Let the African airports speak with one voice and let the African airports come out with one solution implementable in Africa. We make sure that every member country is considered equally. There is no discrimination whatsoever; all of us are equal and the solution we proffer, we make sure that such solutions are implementable in all our countries.
A Nigerian is the ICAO President, a Nigerian is the AFCAA Secretary General and now you are the President of ACI Africa. What does this portend for aviation in Africa and how can we harness these appointments to develop aviation in Africa?
It means that Nigerians and Nigeria are playing their role properly in the industry. The industry recognizes that. That is why you have these positions occupied by Nigerians. One thing that I want to mention here that played this advantage is that , of course if you look at Africa as a whole, it is a growing economy; it is large and there are lots of potentials in Africa. And then, if you look at the position of Nigeria in Africa, you discover that Nigeria is a great market. We have the largest population. Of course this number played to our advantage. If you look at the location of Nigeria, in the map of Africa and entire world, Nigeria is central, from Nigeria, it takes you an average of equal time to go to any region in the world. The population really played to our advantage. Again, being the greatest economy in Africa, the tendency is that everybody is looking up to Nigeria for leadership. Nigerians are hard working people. Once you give them responsibility, they dedicate themselves to that responsibility and make sure they do their best. That is why in any groupings in any association, Nigerians there excel. They are looking at these qualities Nigerians have inherent in them .and when they are giving such assignments, it comes to play. With that, I think a Nigerian can be anything.
How do you intend to make a difference, probably to carve out a niche for yourself as the current ACI Africa President?
There are lots of things I would do. First of all, our concern mostly is to make sure that we continue to improve the environment for safe secure aviation business. There are lots of things that we need to do. Because of the global challenges that we have, we need to make sure we improve our security in all our airports in Africa. Not only that, the next important thing is commercials. We need revenue to sustain some of our operations. We need air services which are critical. We need connectivity because right now, we don’t have the connectivity that we require to cover the entire Africa continent and this is our immediate concern. We also need proper and improved air services. We need to collaborate with African airlines through African Airlines Association (AFRAA) or IATA to make sure that African airlines are developed in such a way that they rate with other airports. We need to look at creating an environment so that these African airports get access to our airports. Whatever it means, if it means getting some incentives or encouragement or whatever it takes to bring our African airlines to cover all African airports that we have to improve connectivity in Africa. We will sit down and look at them critically and collaborate with stakeholders to make sure that we achieve proper connectivity, within the African airspace and African airport it will go a long way in improving the growth of our airlines and services within the continent of Africa. There are the other things that we need to add, in addition to safety and security, that will make our aviation robust. It is a growing economy and there are so many potentials to make sure that we encourage investors into African aviation business.
You mentioned incentives to encourage African airlines to make use of our airports to improve connectivity. What are these incentives?
We are working towards that. We are thinking seriously. We have discussed this and we asked all the members to go and think. Different issues for different countries. But I assure you, in our next meeting, we will bring their issues and we will discuss it, harmonize and work out the incentives we would like to provide for African airlines to achieve a better connectivity. We have committees and these committees are given some of the assignments that come up with the board and then we work on that.
What is the level of relationship and interface between the different ACI groupings such as ACI Africa, ACI Asia, ACI North America and others?
We have ACI World. ACI World is the coordinating body and it is headed by a Director General. We have a President and a Vice President too. We are members and I am a member of ACI world due to my position as President of ACI Africa. The Vice President is also there. There are two advisers and two other representatives. All the other ACIs in the other continents meet under the auspices of the ACI World and all the issues that emanated from the continental ACIs are brought to the ACI world for resolution and action. This is the relationship and we work together as a team so that at the end of the day, what is adopted by ACI World is adopted by all the other ACIs.
In the area of capacity building, we know that aviation is dynamic especially the trend in the world, talking about terrorism. I know ACI may have training for people to acquire knowledge and skills to get the professional competence to manage airports. In this particular area, what do you intend to do?
The Human Resources Sub-committee for Africa region met in Maputo and they have come up with suggestions on capacity development in Africa. The board has approved that, and as we are speaking, people have already started attending a course in security. Normally, once these courses are approved and we identify the right resource person to impact the knowledge to the airport workers, we assemble them and then we carry out all these courses. We have a programme for courses in 2017. They have been approved by the board. We intend to implement that. Mostly, it is geared towards improvement of airport workers as far as airport in Africa are concerned. It is also geared towards their knowledge that will enable them execute their responsibilities, bearing in mind the current issues that we have. We are talking about airport security but we place emphases on landside security because people come from the landside to the airport and perpetrate whatever bad intentions that they have. So we have a template of how to tackle security at the airports, especially the landside security. These are the kind of things we look at and we proffer solution to them. There are lots of improvements in the training programme. We are looking at: what are the threats; what do we do; what is on the table for ACI Africa. These trainings are geared towards addressing such issues and we are very flexible. We look at the requirements of various countries under ACI Africa. Then bring it to the board and then discuss and determine the people that require these raining. We determine the location for the training and we offer the training. We try as much as possible to train more people. So we normally, take the training to the doorstep of those that need it so that we don’t have to pay much or spend much on the training.
What is the take of ACI on concessioning of the airports?
It is a very good thing to the entire aviation all over the world. For any business, for example, airport operations, we depend a lot on infrastructure. This infrastructure requires renewal all the time. This renewal also requires a lot of capital investments. How do we get capital investment in order to make sure that all airports comply to standard in terms of structure. Initially, all over the world, governments started building airports for their own purposes. For example, the flight that came to Nigeria which landed in Kano was a military flight. But this expands and become commercial. The rate at which airports services are required in most African countries, for example African governments were unable to meet up the infrastructure gap. So what is the solution? Some people go for loan from banks and then you pay back these loans. Even airlines borrow money from the banks. Once government creates intervention funds but when there are serious gaps to be closed in terms of infrastructure, of course all over the world concession was introduced.
What is concession? Concession is okay, you know how to do the business, you are a stakeholder in the business, you are interested in the business, lets collaborate and then we share the profits. That is all what concession is. Let’s come and close this gap and share the profit. This is my personal opinion. If concession is done properly and openly and transparently, all the parameters, issues are properly considered and there are no crises at the end of the day, concession is much better. The shared risk in case of concession is important. I think we need to understand the difference between privatization and concession. If all the parameters are gotten rightly at the beginning, I think concession is better.
You talked about air connectivity in Africa and how ACI is trying to create a single sky. How would you be able to achieve this without the necessary infrastructure?
A lot of countries are making efforts. In the last meeting we had a lot of projects across of Africa airports are either in advanced stage or that the project is just taking off. You can see that every country in Africa is trying to make sure that they provide adequate infrastructure for the kind of traffic they want to attract. It is not the size of the building that determines the traffic. Mostly, passengers and other airport users see only the terminal building. There are lots of things that you don’t see. The airlines are there; what about the runway, apron, ground services and what have you. These are the important things that airlines will require to come. What is important to attract traffic is whether we have adequate navigational equipment at the airport, runway, apron, ramp services, and fuel. Those are things that everybody would want to know if they are adequate. African airlines are trying to address all these.
As ACI Africa President, how would you use your tenure to see how African airlines can begin to work with global technology that is in place at major airports, as it has to do with the issue of baggage claims, terminal buildings to have state of the art facilities?
Technology is very important because you cannot, for example, construct the runway without it. We are looking at that critically. In every meeting that we hold, we invite manufacturers from all over the world. And they come with the state of the art equipment at every meeting that we hold. We give them this opportunity so that member states will look at the new technologies and then see how we can get access to such new technology. They also do presentations so that everybody understands what is there. We share experiences with other airports that have already started using these new technologies. We agree on way to go. We also talk to the manufacturers to assist individual airports that are ready to adopt these technologies on training.
Which legacy would leave behind as the President of ACI Africa?
I am working hard with the board. I have already discussed with them in my acceptance speech that we need just to convince our governments and our approving authorities in the various states. In order to take aviation to the next level in Africa we have identified some areas that we need to cover. The committees are busy working. They will collate all the issues and solutions and bring to us. We will now liaise. We want to bring the approving authorities close to us. If we bring them close to us and they understand the issue, that makes life easier for us in Africa. We intend to explore more and the relationship between African Union with ACI Africa through, of course the rightful channels. We have regional, ECOWAS and we have groupings. We will use the ECOWAS to get African Heads of States. We intend to improve that; so at the end of the day, there will be smooth and proper relationship between us and them and they will see reasons to approve us on all the issues we tend to bring out in the future. And we get the blessings of these governments as quickly as possible.