By Okuneye Moyosola
In April, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) threatened to shut down its services in nine airports where operators did not pay for services rendered.
The Authority also warned that the debtors had until April 30th to clear the debts which was calculated to be over 2.6 million saying there was no response to its previous ultimatum.
FAAN had earlier issued a notice of sanction to the owners/operators of the airports indebted to FAAN, which elapsed on Wednesday, April 24 2019 but the authority was considerate enough to issue another FAAN seven days notice of grace till Tuesday, April 30, 2019, for them to settle the debts.
Private airports to be affected include the Osubi Airport near Warri, Delta State, and the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal Two (MMA2).
State airports are Victor Attah International Airport, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Delta State Airport, Asaba, Bayelsa International Cargo Airport, in Ammassona, Gombe State Airport, in Gombe, Jigawa State Airport, Dutse, Kebbi State Airport, Birnin Kebbi and Taraba State Airport, Jalingo.
However, majority of the airports took the order with levity until the FAAN withdrew its Aviation Security and Aerodrome Rescue and Fire Fighting personnel from Gombe and Kebbi Airports over N732 million indebtedness.
FAAN previously issued a similar warning in December 2018 but withdrew the plan after public criticism. According to Mrs. Yakubu, the decision was made considering the hardship the public will be subjected to if it goes ahead with the action with the upsurge of traffic during the yuletide season of the year
With this, the airports promised to pay the debts but did not fulfill their promise.
According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), no planes can take off or land at airports without these services available. In the absence of these services, the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) would be directed to issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to restrict operations at the airports which will lead to its closure.
This would adversely affect air travel as a lot of money will be lost and the plans of air passengers would be disrupted. Despite the large amount of money generated by these airports, there has been several cases of debts owed over the years.
In an interview with the Press Secretary to the Minister of Aviation, Mr. James Odaudu toldMMS Plus that the action to close down the airports was a decision taken by the government.
“If FAAN closes down the airports, it is the government that has closed down the airport. The government cannot pay on their behalf; they will have to pay for their debts themselves. Whatever FAAN does is the representation of what the governments wants. These airports can only save themselves by paying up these debts, otherwise more airports will be closed”
Meanwhile, an aviation consultant and the Director of Transport, Research and Intelligence, NITT, Zaria, Dr. Danjuma Ismalia highlighted some of the reasons for the huge debts owed by these airports.
“Let us look at the background of this issue. These airports are state projects. Normally government project or state project to be embarked on, there must be economic planning for that. There is a long term benefit of why the state needs to embark on such type of high capital intensive projects. Normally, the construction of all these airports is based on political gain rather than economic planning. It is not properly planned for. They are just spending money like it’s another financial escapade for cheap publicity and political consideration to show that they have a lot of land mass”.
“There will just earmarked maybe 10 or 11 billion naira to construct the airport and show less concern about the sustenance of it. Who will sustain it?” he queried.
“There needs to be an operation that will sustain the sensitization of the airport. Nigerian government has to regulate the proliferation of the airports in the country. You need to know the certification process. Airport is not like a motor park that you just establish and expect it to work like that. An airport has to be maintained based on international standard and that is according to ICAO international standard most especially if you want to operate on international routes. By that, this means that they must comply with the standard rules and regulations in terms of provision of infrastructures, facilities, standard operating procedures and even the training of their personnel” he said
Dr. Danjuma urged federal government to sensitize the state government on the conditions that pertains to the survival of the airport.
“I advise the federal government to sensitize any state that wants to build an airport on the international regulation of establishing airport not only earmarking money and leaving the airports to survive on its own and expect someone to run it for them effectively” he said.
He stressed that airports can operate effectively if they have fire fighting and security personnel amongst their staff regardless of FAAN’s threat to withdraw these services.
“For an airport to be certified as safe, it has to have fire fighting and Aviation security personnel. The airport has to comply with this standard and so it was easier for them to ask FAAN to provide these services for them because FAAN has the facility, training and skills to all those services. So if they can’t meet up with FAAN’s requirement, its either they have to invest in their personnel to acquire the security skills or acquire the facilities for fire fighting and train their staff which has to be certified by FAAN. So many of these airports have spent extravagant money to obtain licenses and certificate needed for them to operate and that is why they owing” he stressed.
If they can’t pay, the government has to close the airport because they did not comply with the standard. To prevent situations like this, let every state government should also be sensitized on the rules and regulation guiding the operations and services for them to operate.
Danjuma noted that FAAN and these airports could reach an agreement whereby these charges could be deducted from the source.
“There could reach an agreement whereby the charges would be deducted from the federal government at the source and that settles it Instead of them closing the airports because they refused to pay debts”.
“However, when there is an agreement between two parties which is the concessionaire and the concessioner, each party is supposed to abide by the conditions given” he opined.