Mr Sunday Ayodele is the Airport Manager, Margret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar. In this interview with ANTHONY AWUNOR, the airport manager says the introduction of cashless policy has impacted positively to the system. Excerpts
The Federal Government, through the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ policy wants to ensure that everybody can do business within the stipulated time, without stress. How far has this policy affected transactions of business in Calabar Airport?
‘Ease of doing business’ policy has improved business transactions very greatly. I think it was one of the brilliant initiatives of government that has brought this to fore. It has actually, positively brought a lot of dignity and it has also increased our revenue. Now passengers are not allowed to pay cash to anybody; so the so-called staff that want to do any funny thing with our revenue may not be able to do so any longer. There is no how they can do that, since they don’t have access to our revenue or cash. Except they want the passenger to go with the money freely, which is not possible. So; one, it has made things very easy in the airport, it has help in reducing the activities of touts at the airport to the barest minimum. It has completely reduced the level of touting in the airport because if anybody is exchanging cash with you, we will ask questions. So; if you go to the screening point, nobody dashes anybody money there because people are watching. The only place for now that we are not doing cashless policy is the access gate because it has not been automated. However, every other cash point; both in our VIP, even the car park, our cleaning, everywhere is completely cashless. We also have the roll-up banners that also sensitise people and we have these jingles that we also play to sensitise people in all the languages. We have it in Yoruba, we have it in Igbo, we have it in Hausa. We have POS and it is very active so that when people go, you just slot in your card and pay. So, everything is in place and it is moving smoothly, it is 100 percent compliance except the access gate which has not been automated.
Let’s look at Margret Ekpo International Airport, it is one of the airports that was being done by Princess Stella Oduah. What is the level now, has the contractor gone back to site?
Yes, the contractor came back to site to complete the job sometime ago. Although, it has not been fully completed but at least, it has gone to appreciable level. Apart from the terminal building, they are also working on the car park. I think the car park is also part of the job. They have already moved in and I think that they are working.
What is the greatest challenges that you are facing at the airport? I think it is the grass man
management, that is the greatest challenge. You know the rate of rain here is 12 months in a year. There is nothing like August break, our own season is rain and all the time. But by the grace of God, we are coping and luckily we have our own tractor. NAMA is cooperating in assisting us with their own tractors and we have built a very great synergy with the agency. So; we go to NAMA and they complement us with their own.
Has the power situation improved at the airport?
From the primary source yes, to some extent. The airport however, has always been magnanimous with AGO. So, if we don’t have supply from the primary source, we quickly swift over to the secondary source. Both the primary source and the secondary source are stable. Our generators are okay, we have enough diesel, enough AGO, when we have PHCN which is the primary source, we also swift. Lagos is very responsible; they are very prompt in paying their PHCN bills. Is there any support from the state government? In their own little way, they are supporting. When the Acting President was to visit last year, we asked them for assistance and they gave us a KIA vehicle for surveillance. We are still using it. I think it is a donation to the airport and everything is going on smoothly. We have a good relationship with the state government.
What will you say about the management of FAAN. Have they been up and doing in terms of Calabar airport?
Yes, I must confess that FAAN has actually been alive to their responsibilities. They have responded very well in payment of salaries, welfare of staff; and in terms of allocation, it has been regular. So that has been able to support us a great deal to be able to do maintenance of most of the infrastructures. And anytime that we have major challenge, we write to them for special release and they also give it to us. So for any special assistant, they are very prompt. FAAN is doing extremely well, we have an MD that is very good. Luckily for us, he was once an airport manager, so he knows the terrain very well. He is not an outsider. When he was the airport manager, he knew some of the challenges that he was facing that time, now he is at the saddle and he is extremely cooperating with us and I think that he is actually a father and I hope that we will continue to have insiders as MD, those who have tasted some of these things before so at least we can continue to have direct access to them.
What will you say about passenger traffic, is it improving or decreasing when compared to two, three years ago?
For me, the passenger movement is supposed to be increasing but unfortunately we don’t have enough airlines flying into Calabar Airport. As at today, we have just only one airline which is Air Peace that is doing Lagos – Calabar and then Calabar-Abuja and then come back from Abuja to Calabar and then go back to Lagos. So those passengers that would have loved to go in the morning, some of them, it is either they go by road or they go to Uyo and so as a result of just one airline that we have. Definitely monopoly sets in and then you expect the prices to go up in compliance with the law of demand and supply. When the prices go up, people find their way to Uyo airport, from Calabar to Uyo is just N1,000 and then when you get to the park, from the park to the airport is just about N1,500 and then they can conveniently get a fare say maybe N25,000 from Uyo to Lagos or to anywhere; whereas here because of monopoly, you get it for over N40, so people move to that side. I want to advise FAAN that route mapping is one of our major responsibilities. It is the duty of FAAN to encourage some airlines to also go to most of these so-called unviable airports which for me I don’t believe that they are unviable because, if properly managed, they might become viable. Lagos is congested, Abuja is congested, Port Harcourt and everywhere, they should encourage them to come to this route and develop this route. If you have an aircraft that is operating Benin, Port Harcourt and Calabar, they very are viable routes. FAAN should encourage airlines to take that route. If you go to Benin very early in the morning, you can conveniently count over 40 to 50 vehicles that move from Benin to these axis, to Calabar, to Port Harcourt, to Bayelsa and everywhere. Most of these people, they first go to Lagos, or they go to Abuja in order to fly to where they are going to because the road is bad. From Calabar to Benin alone is about 9 hours, how many people can stand that. So, if I am going to Benin now and I don’t want to sit for 9 hours, I will first of all fly to Abuja, or I fly to Lagos then I will take a flight to Benin. So if we have FAAN headquarters can help us encourage some of these airlines especially using a smaller aircraft to take most of these routes, if we are able to, we don’t need more than five of those vehicles that ply Benin to Port Harcourt or to Calabar, just five of them 18 seater bus, five of them will be about 75 passengers. So; if we have jus five of them and we have a smaller aircraft probably maybe Dash-8 or CRJ that can take this route, before you know it definitely this place will be better. And then it will also encourage airlines like Dana, Overland and others to begin to fly in. The passengers are there but the airlines or aircraft are not just there. We need an aircraft that will probably do a night stop here and go very early in the morning. If we have an aircraft that can leave here around 8am or 9am, they can still come back even in the evening.
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