Mr. Basil Agboarumi is the General Manager, Corporate Communications of the Skyway Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL). In this interview recently, he bares his mind on the activities of the aviation industry in the last one year, their challenges, his expectation from the industry this year and many more. Our correspondent conducted the interview. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the industry in the last one year?
I am still looking at some reports and we are observing that 2014 seemed to be a beautiful year for aviation globally. Actually, we had some major calamities that had to do with disappearance of airlines, at least, one we couldn’t be able to find and another one in December was a major issue. Then I think gunning down an aircraft in Ukraine is another major issue but then when you still look at it, we could say it was still a beautiful year for the aviation industry globally.
The when you look at Nigeria, we could say yes a lot of things were done and I could also tell you that for the first time, we had a system that had the willpower to bring change and that has to do with the remodeling exercise that the Federal Government went into. We felt, at least, something was done compared to so many years that we have been in the system that nothing was done, we see Ministers coming and Ministers going and there was no impact on the system and the entire public will just shout, cry, nothing was done.
But this one, yes, people had a lot of expectations but at least for the first time, we got somebody who was determined to bring a change, and she started. You know they say that if you live in glass house, you don’t throw stones and finally, the allegation that came, which well, whether true or not, we are yet to be told. Out of pressure, she was finally eased out of office.
So, but at least, we could see appreciable change or projects, the remodeling of the airports, the airport terminal was a little bit expanded, we could see commencement of new terminal buildings in Lagos and Abuja and they are still ongoing and so on.
Well, for us as a company, SAHCOL, 2014 was a year we would like to remember and we would not easily forget because it comes into our history that this complex where we are now, we moved into it in December 2014 and much work was done in our warehouse within that time and major work towards completion was done in 2014 and this year, we just do finishing touches on the warehouse and present it to the public.
So, 2014, I will say it was a step above what the year 2013 was.
What would you have wanted done differently in the industry that perhaps was not done in 2014?
Recently, we had a Press briefing where my MD spoke quite a lot and majorly, I know the one we were complaining, it has to do with double taxation and normally, sometimes we try to see it as a case of trying to kill the hen that lay the golden eggs and sometime, business in this environment takes a lot of guts, much of grace and we believe that if we must build our economy as a nation that the ground handlers need to be encouraged rather than, for example, the case in question has always been, when you look at the equipment we use for ground handling, it costs a lot of money and I can tell you that airline business without ground handling is just an impossibility because there are a lot of equipment that are involved and this equipment cost fortunes.
And for you to invest in these equipment and then you now bring it in, like my MD will always say that they are not equipment you can use just anywhere outside the airport, So, when they come in, they go to the ramp and they stay in the ramp and for us to have brought in these equipment we have to pay to even take them to the ramp and when we still make money, then we share the money with the government, then I don’t think it is fair enough.
So, it is like muscling the owls that make this money. If by the time you are taxed so much, also you look at the cost of bringing in this equipment, it is much. What we pay because they are not equipment that you can fly by air, they are heavy equipment, they come in by sea and sometimes we go through a lot to get them cleared from the sea but after we have done that then we bring them and taking them into the places where they will be used becomes a problem also.
After the money is made, there is huge taxation to ensure that all these concessionaires don’t get a huge chunk of it and at the end of the day; we are almost left with nothing.
Recently, you were quoted in the media as asking for the expansion of the airport facilities to accommodate the movement of heavy equipment used in ground handling. Can you throw more light on it?
When you are talking about space, maybe you need to really understand how the airport works and how the handling companies work, maybe, it is not really space but all we are saying is that we are stakeholders and a major one for that matter. Normally, after the airlines, because everybody is here because of the airlines, is it the regulator, is it the handling companies, is it the airport authority because like they say, no car no garage, so why would you build a garage when there are no cars to be parked there?
So, you cannot talk about airport authority if the aircrafts are not flying, you cannot talk of the airspace if the aircrafts are not flying, that is why the airlines must stay alive. So, it is very vital because the airlines feed everybody. After the airlines, yes, you could be talking about the airport authority. It also requires that they can now have where to park, then after that you talk about the ground handlers, they become very important because if the aircraft comes in and does not have adequate ground facility to manage it, anything that happens on the ground is the business of the handlers. So, what we are still saying and we have always said is that before you build an airport, you must have our take because we will offer expert advice, we know how we will be positioned because if an aircraft comes in and we don’t have a place, for example, we are in Sokoto and we have to park our equipment in Port-Harcourt, when the aircraft comes, the time we will now move the equipment from Port-Harcourt to Sokoto, time is lost and airline business is a time business. So, as it is coming, we are positioning.
So, when we are asking for space, we are talking about space for us to park our equipment and also manage the individuals that will handle those equipment. We need space to operate. But when you don’t give us a place for comfortable parking and do I say now for housing the ground staff, then you discover that you are already making our job very difficult.
You said that when you bring in your equipment, to clear them at the port is very difficult, then to bring it here at the airport is another issue. Can you throw more light on that?
Most of the things we have been asking for now have to do with a lot of the policies of the government. That is why we are always appealing, we have talked of multiple taxation and many others. In fact, what we are even asking for is zero tariffs on those equipment because it is done for aircraft parts. So, we too need it because we are working towards the same aim.
It is not just about airlines getting it but also we need to get it because it is talking about air traveler, giving him a seamless transition when he is travelling or when his goods are coming in because at the end of the day, if the airlines are very beautiful and the ground operation is having issues with clearance, it still goes back to the airline and at the end of the day, it is aviation. That is why what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.
So, when we say that we are bringing in these equipment and you know most times we pay heavily to clear these equipment because none of them is manufactured in Nigeria. You go in there, you place your order, exactly the same thing that happens in the case of an aircraft. You know in aircraft, if you want to buy an aircraft, except you have a second hand, it has to be booked for in form of placing an order for it to be produced.
That is why you see some of those big airlines, they would have been booked for so many years, up to 20 and they will be supplying them gradually. So, it is still the same thing with us. If we need to buy any of the equipment now, we need to get to the manufacturer and we go into discussions.
This handling equipment that you are talking about, are they not supposed to be provided by the government since it shares in the gains?
You see, this is what we are still saying, are they supposed to be provided by the government? You know SAHCOL was a government establishment up till 2009? You need to understand where we are coming from. SAHCOL was a subsidiary of the Nigerian Airways. Nigerian Airways was fully owned by the government and so, when the Nigeria Airways was being liquidated, SAHCOL was separated up till 2009, 24th of December precisely, when SAHCOL was privatized and it became a private entity. SIFAX Group bought in and took it from the government hundred percent.
So, this SAHCOL is hundred percent owned by private individuals. That is why government sold and that is what privatization was out to address. So, it is now that private entity that should buy these things. But now that you have privatized, okay government does not have business doing this, and whether you like it or not, they will still regulate, is this company doing well? Are they doing what is right? Because at the end of the day, if the right services are given, it is the government of the day that will still take the glory and so, that is exactly what has been done.
It is a private company but we still do what the government should have done because it has been sold to us as a private individuals but then, let us have some good policy that will enable us perform even better.
You talked about the achievements of the former Minister of Aviation in the sector. Would you say that her successor has sustained the tempo of development in the industry since assuming office late last year?
They are working, the terminal expansion is still on. Government is a continuum, I mean, that is what it should be and it is still the same government that is in power. So, this one has come and I know he is taking over from where the former Minister has stopped as much as we can see.
Yes, I am not a spokesman for the Minister but we have seen, at least, some of the policies that are coming out, for example, we are crying of multiple taxation, we are aware that a Committee was set up to look at it. That means, it is a listening government, they have heard us cry and say let us even look at this and so, we believe that is being done.
And when you go to the international Airport, that building, the construction is on, that means, they have not totally jettisoned the project that were done before. I think they are still continuing with the projects although they might still want to do some other things differently and better.
In the last two years, we have witnessed the closure of your terminal and that of NAHCO over some irreconcilable issues with the Nigeria Customs Service. What measures have you put in place to avert a reccurrence this year?
That we were affected during the last closure was not because SAHCOL should be closed. What happened that led to the closure did not concern us but you know the way agents work, it is an association thing. When one thing affects one association, others will join in solidarity with the other. It was that solidarity that affected the closure of SAHCOL too.
Yes, even as important as that question may be, I tell you that not just us, everybody is learning because most of those crises that bedeviled the closure, you know, everybody is learning, we are picking things from there and you will agree with me that most of the time when some of these things happen, it becomes a national issue and I remember a foreign Magazine sent some questionnaires to me recently and one of the questions they sent was that they had observed that good news does not normally come from Lagos as it concerns Aviation and it could be as a result of one of those things and I know that if you know the level of consultation that we have done, last time, you know the media, the electronic, the print, everything was going on.
You know, the world is a global village and immediately you do it and you put on the social media, on the internet, everybody is reading. I can tell you that early in the morning, immediately I pick my phone, I get an alert from a company in South Africa telling me what happened in Aviation in Nigeria today. That is exactly what the world is like and I know that we learn from mistakes and when things happen, we learn from it to become better. I believe that all the stakeholders that were involved in the last crisis, everybody will do something better.
How prepared is SAHCOL for the task ahead of it in 2015?
That is why we are building a warehouse and we consulted other warehouses in the world before we started construction. You need to see, the equipment inside are already in and by the time we start test running that warehouse, maybe by the end of this month or the first week in February.
But then we would start test running it before the official commissioning. You will be surprised how prepared and how ready we are to do things differently especially to add value to cargo importing and exporting public because what we are doing there is going to change the face of cargo handling and warehousing in this part of the world.
And that experience, by the special grace of God, it is going to come in fully on stream this particular year 2015.
What are your expectations from the industry this year?
My expectation not only from the industry but from the public is that the public should get good service and the industry should provide good service. So, we are a service rendering industry and we can only hold our heads high if the public is satisfied with what is coming out from all the stakeholders in the industry and that is what it should be and that is what we should aspire because aviation is a global business and we should at all-time be seen to provide international best practices in everything that we do.
What are your expectations from the Federal Government as it relates to your industry?
They should check double taxation for us and give us zero tariffs on importation of equipment. If that is done, we believe that the sky will be our starting point.