The Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Finchglow Travels, Mr. Bankole Bernard has said that passenger traffic alone is not enough to determine if airports are commercially viable or not.
This is just as he frowned at the idea of tagging the four major airports in Nigeria; Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, Mallam Aminu Kano Airport and Port Harcourt Airport to be concessioned as commercially viable, saying that it brings neglect to other alleged unviable airports and that it is a distraction.
Bernard, who challenged those promoting concession to provide documents to support the argument, spoke during an interview shortly after a meeting with the leadership of the League of Airport Aviation Correspondents(LAAC) in Lagos.
According to him, “We have all been distracted with the concession 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?
“As a matter of fact, let me tell you that airport terminals are no longer what they used to be. As a matter of fact, in some countries, they have turned their airports into a shopping mall – local and international where you can do and undo a lot of things,” Bernard said.
Bernard, who is also the President of Approved Training Organisation(ATO) argued that converting their airports into shopping malls alone attracts passengers to use such airports, adding that if Nigeria has such a viable business outlook, it would not continue to say some airport are not commercially viable
In his words, “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.”
He contended that instead of tagging some airports unviable commercially, the Federal Government should allow those that have an interest in those airports to turn them around, insisting that governments are not in the business of doing business, as they are regulators.
He advised governments to concentrate on regulating and creating a conducive atmosphere for businesses to thrive while allowing private businessmen to handle the business aspect.
“How do they handle the business aspect of it? Government can allow them to take some critical business decisions by allowing them to run the business the way it should be. I have been to some airports around the world and I will give you some examples.
“Do you know that the Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) Thurgood Marshall Airport in the United States, as small as it is, is an active airport? It is active because they are building more shops and renovating the place so people can enjoy the airport,” he said
Speaking further said that Akure airport before now had only one airline operating in it, but that today about three airlines operate in the airport.
According to Bernard, “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.”
Bernard, who is also the former President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies(NANTA) noted that statistics revealed that the recovery of travel in Nigeria is the highest in the world and that the figure is higher than the world and continent figures.
He said that despite the fact that Nigeria does not have a national carrier and the purchasing power of the average Nigerian is low, the culture of flying is growing and that the implication of this is that the market is viable
“They shouldn’t tell us our airports are not commercially viable. People like us that come in have even the opportunity to prove that these airports are viable. How do you make an airport viable when you only put on the generator when you have an aircraft approaching and the moment the aircraft lands, you put off the generator again? This will not be viable because you have lost communication, so even when people show up and they can’t get electricity, they will probably stop,” Bernard insisted.
He further argued that as long as Nigeria continues to give the management of airports to friends, cronies and next of kin to manage instead of those who have the passion and management acumen, some airports would continuously be tagged as commercially unviable.
On whether the policy of concessioning the four major airports be reversed, he said, “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 it? 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. So, let them continue with their concessions, but the ones you think are not commercially viable should be looked into and we can see how they can be turned around by private sector people that can make them commercially viable.
“The thing about government policies and decisions cannot be reversed because I don’t have that power to reverse it, but I have the initiative to make them look into other things, which are the ones they consider unviable and let us make them commercially viable, “the ATO President said.