Big Interviews

Passengers may soon start getting 50% rebate for next flight when there are delays- Keyamo

The Minister of Aviation, Festus Keyamo has revealed that before he came on board there was no master plan for all the airports in Nigeria as he also delved into other reformations going on in the ministry under his watch. In this interview on Channels TV Politics Today monitored by David Lawani, the Minister talked about the relocation of the headquarters of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria from Abuja to Lagos, among other sundry issues

 

 

The relocation of some departments of FAAN to Lagos has generated so much fuss. What are the facts about these issues?

It is just a storm in a teacup. There is so much happening beyond the movement of some of these departments to Lagos.  It was in 2020 that my predecessor in office gave a directive that the headquarters should move from Abuja to Lagos. All the while, the headquarters have been in Lagos at FAAN. But when the directive was given, I don’t know the reason. One obvious thing is the fact that no adequate provision was made for all the principal officers who were supposed to move to Abuja. So, there were no offices to accommodate the principal officers. Talking about the principal officers, I mean, the directors of the agency and the departments under those directorates.  All of this comes up to about 132 persons. Well, under my predecessor we had 10 directorates. I just created one more which is cargo. And in addition to that, I think special duties to take care of important issues for us. And then you now have general managers under these directorates, which also include deputy general managers, assistant general managers, and others. People are getting so many things wrong about the headquarters of an organisation. Some people erroneously assume that the headquarters is where the best operation takes place. It doesn’t mean where the biggest building is headquartered but rather where the decision-makers sit. That is what headquarters means in any sector at all. It is just where decision-makers sit daily to make decisions. So, in 2020, they came to Abuja. They had nowhere to stay. All the principal officers have no offices to stay.

 

 

Even up till now?

I have seven agencies that I supervise. INMET has a beautiful permanent office here. NCA has an office in Abuja.  All of this we are talking about is one of those seven that is moving back to Lagos. They are the decision-makers. When they were in Abuja there was no office to stay. They just milled around for some time and they all went back to Lagos. This movement we are talking about, all of them are actually in Lagos.

 

 

 

How many of them out of the 132?

More than 100, but they are already in Lagos. Physically they are not in Abuja.

 

 

So why did you take the decision?

The new management approached me. It is not like I woke up one morning and I decided this is what I will do. They came to me with facts and, said look… “This is our problem. One, some of the directors are here but the support staff and the departments under these directors do not have a permanent place to stay. The implication of that is that daily they need to meet and take decisions. These departments are domiciled in Lagos while the directors are in Abuja, you see them flying every day with files to and from Abuja just to get a simple signature approved for one small meeting or the other. And it is compounded by the fact that FAAN is not yet digitalised. That is what I met on the ground. It is not digitalised, a situation where they can exchange documents. So, they fly every day back and forth from Abuja to Lagos. In one year, they showed me their books. They spent close to half a billion naira on air tickets. Let that shock Nigerians first between Lagos and Abuja.  Four hundred and fifty million naira on ticket alone. I shouted and said, what is this? The MD of course has an office here. But she will need 1, 2, or 3 here. They will fly to Abuja daily.

 

 

Was it the top officials of FAAN that asked for this?

Yes, they said, “sir let us all go back to Lagos”. I approved because the buck stopped at my desk. They requested me, including the unions.

 

 

Is the President privy to this?

I decided as a Minister. He is the President.

 

 

 

Is the President aware of this?

It is an administrative decision. It is within the purview of the Minister. The people who are calling press conferences are the ones playing politics with the whole thing trying to bring the President into all this. All the aviation unions, in fact in 2020 protested. They kicked against it because they needed to protect their members, but they didn’t listen to them. Because when you designate, Abuja as the headquarters, 200 staff that are there in Lagos technically will be working out of stations because that is where their houses are, and we have the old accommodation in Lagos. While we are struggling with this in Abuja, we have the old accommodation in Lagos. So, I said go back to the old accommodation, until we get a befitting building in Abuja because we still need a befitting building in Lagos. They don’t have it but they have space. They have the Nigerian Airways building they have been using for 40 to 50 years. So, instead of us struggling here, and spending so much money on air tickets back and forth, I ordered them to go back to Lagos. As the Minister, I don’t meet day-to-day with them. I can meet with MDs maybe once a week or two a week.

 

 

What is the reason for the political uproar?

It is the nature of certain people who do not want government to function. Do you know people who are already preparing for 2027? They just wake up all kinds of things. It is a straightforward explanation to give. The money is not mine. The money belongs to the Nigerian people. If they are not enraged to know that half a billion was spent on air tickets because of operational reasons, then no problem.

 

 

Are you going ahead to implement that relocation?

As I said, there was no movement of materials and personnel. It is just a designation of Lagos as the headquarters. We are not moving files or human beings. They are there.

 

 

What are you doing concerning the incessant cancellation of flights and delays faced by customers? As the regulator, what are you doing to address these issues?

I feel it too. It is one of those issues I told myself that when I become a minister of aviation I was going to address. So, I feel the pains of Nigerians who go through it. I saw lots of text messages on my phones, chats, and emails. It is a very difficult situation.  All my predecessors as you can see could not address the situation. But I am trying to get to a reasonable bend on this issue. You have to handle it with extra carefulness because it is a delicate issue. If you decide to wield the big stick by suspending erring airline you may compound the problems.  Agreed they are rendering service to the Nigerian people. The most important thing is that the customers must have succour. That is the conclusion we get. What kind of succour can we give to them? All over the world, there are flight cancellations, and we must keep to them. There are flight cancellations and all of that. But in other climes, they keep to the rules. The clear rules are stated as to how you treat customers. How do you give them money and comfort when you delay their flights? That is what we are thinking about. I have initiated something very innovative. You are hearing it from me for the first time on this platform. We have engaged a couple of insurance companies, and they have come to us. They want to find a way out of this. The insurance companies have undertaken to insure these passengers. They will be present at every airport in the country. The moment there is a delay, they will take care of the cancellation for customers who are willing to catch the next flight. The insurance companies will pay for the ticket on the spot and they will recover their money from the airline. That is why they are risk-takers. They are prepared for it. The details are being worked out. But we have come to a preliminary agreement to go with us on that. That is one angle to it. The other one that we have started working on since last year with the airlines is that we say look, can you give your customers who suffer discomfort some kind of rebate? This is because of the difficulty in getting a refund from the airlines at the airport. It takes so much time because you buy online, unlike those days when you buy by cash- that is no longer available. Cash transactions are hardly available. Customers come and buy tickets with their debit cards online and all that. You cannot get the cash back and that is what causes the frustration at the airport. And at that time you don’t have enough cash to buy another ticket. So, the insurance company will take care of that. We are also looking at the possibility of giving rebates to customers. The next time a customer wants to buy a ticket from me, you must give some rebate, 25 per cent or 50 per cent. “I was the one involved in this so and so time when my flight was cancelled”, a customer will explain. So, your name is on the system and we are working out the details, and we have a system whereby you can identify the customer and say now, instead of a hundred thousand you are paying seventy thousand for this ticket as compensation for what happened the last time. It is a win-win situation. This will help the airline to retain its customers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When a ticket is about N250,000, and you have an urgent assignment to catch up with. And the trip is cancelled. You may not even have as much to buy another ticket. What do you do in this instance? That is why the insurance companies have to come in.

 

 

 

How soon will that happen?

Very soon. The agreement has been reached.

 

 

So you can get another ticket immediately?

Immediately. They will pay for you on the spot. There are some rules that if you miss the flight, that would be the end of the day. We are working on the possibility of the insurance company providing comfort in terms of hotel accommodation for the passengers, whose flight is cancelled.  So, we will stretch them to that point.  So that they will now claim those money back from the airline.

 

 

The recent issues in Ibadan are worrisome. What is your explanation to Nigerians on the Ibadan incident?

We reacted immediately. Now, the NSIB which is one of our agencies, the accident investigation unit took up the matter. They have swung into action to get reports on this incident. As the lead, I have told them to speed up the investigation on this matter and get a report to us. However, I am not waiting for those reports. We have decided to take some pre-emptive steps. There is an urgent need to upgrade our equipment. The first Ibadan incident was when the aircraft landed before the runway. The last time we upgraded our equipment was when those series of accidents happened during President Obasanjo’s time. There was a stakeholders’ meeting and there was procurement at that time in the aviation sector in terms of navigation and all of that. But after that technology has improved across the world. I have just gone to a few places across Europe, and we think there is a need to upgrade our equipment to meet modern standards. Some had been done while some were being done before I came. For this incident, we are specifically looking at upgrading the total radar coverage. It is a total radar coverage of Nigeria, and so, we are embarking on that. We are also procuring equipment-landing and navigational equipment and upgrading the ones that we have before. There is the ILS. That we are trying to procure. The modern ones are from international airports. There is also what they call the decor. It is a VHS homily directional range equipment. This equipment guides aircraft even in very difficult circumstances, even in hazy weather, they are the ones who guide the approach and landing of aircraft. Even if the pilot is blind, these are technical equipment that can guide you to land in those difficult circumstances.  We are in the process of procuring this equipment for the country to upgrade its equipment to ensure that we can handle emergencies. As I said, I am not coming to that conclusion.  But we immediately reacted. Now, what I did in November was that I wrote to Mr. President to say look, beyond the envelope system, of the budget please can we have urgent intervention regarding this very critical equipment? I called all the stakeholders together. I called the officials of NAMA together, NCAA and NISB. I said what do we need? We all look at it and forward it to Mr. President. Guess what? In his characteristics style, Mr President said look the lives of Nigerians are more important than any other thing. He immediately directed the Ministry of Finance to look into it and how we can quickly raise funds for this. They are in the process of doing that.

 

 

How much would this cost?

We propose about N40bn for all the airports in Nigeria- that is what the track is trying to achieve. The total upgrade.

 

 

Why is the navigation system in Kano so bad that planes can land without being detected? The airport is in terrible shape. What is being done in this regard?

There is also the safe tower project going on, where we want to upgrade our towers across the country. For this particular purpose. Not only that. The five major international airports. The other one is the 12th. We have selected 12 airports across the six geo-political zones and the equipment are ready in Norway. I have gone to see them. And they are ready. It is only a matter of funds just to complete our payment and we will ship the equipment in. Those equipment are ready to upgrade our towers for this kind of detection. We are on it including the total coverage of the track.

 

 

Are there timelines?

Yes, they are almost ready. We just have to also look for the funds. All of this is part of the special intervention we asked for. The special interventions are the projects that I talked about. There is also the distant measuring equipment.  They call it DMA. The low-range and the high-range ones. They are also part of the point we want to prove. The President is so concerned about it.

 

 

 

What is the government doing about the poor state of infrastructure?

The moment I came into the office, the first thing I asked all of them is that where are the master plans for the airports, especially the five international airports. How can you build infrastructure? Is there anywhere you build infrastructure without a plan? Even roads, you must have a plan. I didn’t meet any master plan on the ground for the entire Nigeria in all the international airports. So, the first thing I asked was what have you guys been doing about this? I told myself before Mr President that we need to start a master plan for our five international airports, but we are going to do it for all of them. Let us start with the five international airports. Thankfully, the National Assembly listen to me. I made a presentation on the master plan to them and they have provided the funds in this 2024 budget. If you look at the budget for 2024, you will see the master plan there. That was what we did. We are going round the world. We are talking to world-class international design consultants. If I buy land, and I don’t have money to build a house, should I not go and do a design first? But I don’t have money to build a house but I will approve the plan. If I get the approved plan then I will now start looking for money to build. Why can’t we be ambitious like smaller countries? Even in Europe and every part of the world, they have beautiful and world-class airports. We don’t have a single airport in Nigeria that has a hub. All we have are runway and terminal buildings. That is the old concept of an airport. They cannot process you to another gate, place, or wing. We are looking for concessional to do proper hubs for us. The modern airports are a total ecosystem.  You have five-star hotels, you have a part for the convention centre, you have a part for the shopping complex and where you can plan for 30 years.

 

 

 

How soon will it be ready?

I am inaugurating a committee next week. It is the first technical committee.

 

 

What is the timeline for delivery?

When we inaugurate the technical committee, we will now have a consultant for each of the airports.

Because they are technocrats together, who will direct and work with international consultants. We are going to the best in the world and we will look for the best. We are as ambitious as that.

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