- Mr Bankole Bernard, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Finchglow Group, is also the immediate past President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA). In this interview, he speaks on the move to concession the airports and other issues in the aviation industry.
There has been a controversy over the planned concession of the airports. Some advocated for commercialisation instead of concession of the airports. Which is more effective?
We have all been distracted with the concessioning of the four major airports in Nigeria that we consider to be viable and we have neglected other airports all in the name of the fact that they are not commercially viable, and my question is: Where is the document that revealed to any of us that those airports are not commercially viable? Are we looking at passengers as the only means that makes an airport commercially viable?
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And that alone attracts passengers to patronise such an airport. So, if we have such a viable business outlook, why should we continue to say an airport is not commercially viable? There are quite a lot of things that we need to do and when we put those things in the right perspective, an airport becomes commercially viable.
If you say it is not commercially viable, why don’t you allow those that have interest in those airports to turn them around? I have always said that government is not in the business of doing business. They are regulators. They should stick to their strength, which is regulating, while we allow the business people to handle the business aspect of this.
Akure airport for instance had only one airline going there before, but now about three airlines go there. Are you still saying the traffic is still the way it was? Let me remind you at this point that Nigerians are constantly developing the culture of flying.
Statistics reveal that the recovery of travel in Nigeria is the highest in the world. The figure is higher than the world and continent figures.
But will the government still say the airports are not viable?
There are quite a lot of things we need to do to make our airports commercially viable as long as there is a genuine interest and we give it to those that are passionate about the industry and not give it to our friends to manage.
They have gone far with their concessioning of the four presumed viable airports. The question is what happens to the rest? Why are we not talking about them? Can we shift attention to the ones we think are not viable and take a look at them? And if they can make it viable, it becomes a different story.
You are the president of the association of aviation training organisations of Nigeria. What gave birth to the association and what do you intend to change?
I have always had this principle that guides me, which is professionalism. This is the first step to shared prosperity. If you find yourself in an environment where professionalism thrives, it means the standard will be high and things will be done properly. So, when you look at the aviation industry, you will find out that a lot of attention is given to the airlines because the regulators and service providers believe that is where the money comes from and other areas have been neglected.
It is the minister that decided to even pay attention to NCAT (Nigerian College of Aviation Technology) by getting them simulators to improve learning in the school. I can say to you today that we are not more than 20 in the sector and it shouldn’t be. In a society of over 200 million people, everyone wants to be a pilot and cabin crew member; we need to speak out about our profession. People are not aware that they could do other courses other than becoming a pilot or an engineer. What happened to flight dispatch? This is one of the courses we do in our school and many more.
We don’t have to put pressure on NCAT; Nigeria is a big country with 36 states and we all work together in one way or the other. How can we create publicity and awareness among these ATOs so that others that are not registered can now register with the NCAA? Not only register with NCAA, other investors that are looking for areas to invest in the sector can also come in. That is what we need to do. Aviation journalists can also help us to raise the standard by coming up with things that will challenge us. We need to start showcasing what we have.
Aviation is huge and big all over the world and that is what it should be in Nigeria too. We have been shouting that we want to make Nigeria the hub of aviation in Africa. How will this happen? Will it just become a hub? It is what we say about ourselves that will determine this.
Recovering from post-COVID-19 travel, what is really driving the traffic in Nigeria?
The reason for this is not far-fetched. The cogent reason is the insecurity in the country. A lot of people are resisting travelling by road and prefer to go by air because you can realise that it is cheaper to travel by air than to go by road because if you get kidnapped, you will bring out the money that you didn’t plan to spend.
Also, people are beginning to appreciate time value. Why do I need to spend 24hrs on the road when I can do it in one hour? It is just for you to factor the cost into what you are doing. And people are beginning to think that way. People are beginning to appreciate their time and time is one thing that you can’t just afford to throw away.
After COVID-19, it will be foolish of anybody to allow somebody to waste their time without any cogent reason. A lot of people died and we have come to realise that every second matters. That is what has changed.
Also, politics has started and it is driving the traffic. You know the election year is not the time for the election. It is usually a year before the election. Politics has started since January.
Where do we situate state or federal government-owned airports?
When you check from the regulator, whether state or federal airports, they are still under the NCAA rule. If the NCAA doesn’t give approval, it can’t operate and government is the same anywhere in the world. It is just in this part of the world that we try to demarcate one from the other.
Since government is the same, it means the users of the airports must just see it as the same. In a state-owned airport, are the state governments saying the airports are not commercially viable? If they are saying the same, then, let them give it out to a private sector that will run them effectively and efficiently that will produce the kind of result that you like.
When you look around the airport, you will discover a zillion and one thing that you can do.
If you give me the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) Lagos, to run for one year, I will turn it around to the extent that I will triple the income that comes in. There are certain things that you will not joke with. How effective is the wifi within our airports? And it has to be free for everybody. For everybody that logs in, I am capturing their data. With that alone, I can tell you what the traffic is at that airport.