Engr .C. A. Nwobu, airport manager, Port Harcourt International Airport, in this interview with ANTHONY AWUNOR, assures that all their facilities are working operationally, adding that the airport is the third most viable in the country.
What are the major challenges faced by PHIA?
I am sure you know that Port Harcourt International Airport is among the most viable airports in Nigeria. It can only be compare with Murtala Murhammed International Airport, Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. I can authoritatively say that Port Harcourt International Airport is the third most viable airport in Nigeria. Virtually all the airlines come here. It is very viable for the federal government.
Operating in an uncompleted building is one of the challenges. Power is another challenge; borehole is also a challenge but we have tackled all of them. When you prioritize and tackle those challenges, they give way. For instance, everything we are doing here since I came have a backup system. It is cost intensive but it is worth doing. Formerly, we had one power generating set but now, we have got a second one. Because the building is not completed, we cannot get the right cooling system in form of chillers. Meanwhile, we are supporting it with fans.
How about the construction project going on at the airport?
This project was abandoned but I am happy to say that the construction workers are back to site. We can argue about the speed of work which is an area I have been following up to ensure that some of the hurdles they have are removed so as to ensure quick competition. I can tell you and it is even wonderful that they are back to site; at least I can see them. Before, I wasn’t seeing anybody because it was abandoned.
This existing building that we are staying is equally uncompleted. So when you are talking about rating, it was laughable because even where we are now is still uncompleted. If you go up, you will see that they are still working. These are all challenges that really disturbed our operations and facilitations. Port Harcourt International Airport is one airport where everything is working operationally. There are lots of other things you are not seeing that make up the airport.
For example, the runway is in perfect condition, the airfield lightings are in shape, the approaches, the Instrument Landing System (ILS), VOR are all in perfect condition. So we shouldn’t be looking at the buildings and all those things alone. Some people would even argue what makes an airport.
As much as I believe that both are important, the most important things are those operational things that make an aircraft come in safely and take off. There is also a new international terminal, apart from this one. Before the end of the year, I am sure that project will be realized. And by next year, the two terminals will be functional. Despite our pain, our gains will start coming and passenger will all be happy.
Which areas do you think you can generate revenue through non aeronautical ventures?
Before, it is part of priority to give allocations and pay salary. As a matter of fact, the current leadership of FAAN is trying to abolish the system of releases, so that you work within your budget. What we are given is monthly maintenance allocation. But what we are doing here is to ensure that it carries us till the following month because such monthly allocations are not supposed to finish in one day.
So when you have your fixed cost that you know you carry every month and now you get this money and you pay your bills and get critical things that will run the operation till the next allocation comes. Nothing is enough, but if the allocation is well managed, the fund can stay till next month when the next one would be released. Prioritizing and ranking of events are critical to what we do, so as to do these things, we ought to do. It is not a matter of saying that there are no resources. There is none that will ever be enough. Even when you run out of resources and what you are doing is known, the managing director usually assist you to get it done.
Do you have any support from the state government?
I wouldn’t know of any support for now. We appreciate them if it comes but there is none for now. Even allowing us to operate here is support. Support doesn’t just have to be money alone. If you make an environment conducive for airport operators, that is support. People should not see state support only when they come and build something or give manager money. They have a protocol lounge built here and we run it for them. They give us free hand to run it and that is the only way it can be run professionally. I can equally say, maybe that is the support we are getting now.
What is the relationship with other aviation agencies?
The relationship is perfect. The style of management here is system approach. All these people you called, I still see them as if they are in FAAN. It is a system based management. Any sub system is important. We take aviation as a system. FAAN, NAMA, NIMET are all sub system. Remove NAMA from what I am doing then I wouldn’t even be here. There was even a time that we were all together in one body. You find out it is important to close those gaps. Once one is not functioning well, it is going to affect the other.
How do you see PHIA in the next two years?
In the next two years, the airport may surpass Abuja airport. Why I have a serious rating for this airport is that despite all the distractions, the bad image about the place, the airport is still running. The airlines keep coming. Remember they are not doing charity and that means that if the airport is not a viable one, Air France and Lufthansa wouldn’t be coming. Despite all the threats of insecurity, the airlines keep coming.
It also means that once the environment is ok, all of them will come here, except I have not granted them permission. They would have stopped. You know Port Harcourt International Airport is peculiar now because you talk about recession, it just came about with oil related matter and this is an oil-based state. So what is affecting the people in town is what is affecting us in terms of passenger traffic. However, I look at the future when the economy of this state would be buoyant. With more refineries and other establishments, our business horizon will expand tremendously and that will translate in increase in revenue.
How have you been coping with power, do you have any dedicated power line to service the airport?
Incidentally, before I came here, the biggest challenge we had was power supply. By the grace of God, when I came, I had to meet Port Harcourt Power Company here and they graciously granted us 11KVA dedicated line at no cost to the organization. From then, we have been on steady power supply. Before, you can barely have power supply constantly on generator which is a secondary source. We have four on our line and it is a dedicated line.
It is one of the greatest achievements that we have made here since inception. I am not aware of any other airport that has achieved that feat at a short period and at no cost. All of us are happy for that achievement. Airport operation is all about power, water and other basic infrastructure that you must need.
How do you cope with the passengers?
The passengers know we are doing these things for them. We have equally improved in quite a number of things so much. We are making the place more comfortable, for them. When they see you making genuine efforts, they are happy; they become more patient with you than when you don’t see their own side at all.