‘Cargo airport without complimentary infrastructure, a jamboree’
Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL), one of the country’s two leading aviation cargo handling firms, recently got a new Managing Director, Rizwan Kadri who carries with him a deeply rich experience in aviation management.
Apart from being an expert in the cargo sub-sector of the industry, Kadri had worked at the top management level in several national carriers, including Emirate, Kenya, Kuwait and Qatar airlines.
In this interview with ABIODUN FANORO, first to be granted to any newspaper since his appointment, Kadri examined the cargo sub-sector of the aviation industry, gave reasons for its poor contribution to the national income and how it could be jump-started to play its role.
Some states are now building cargo airports, with the view to consciously promote agro-allied exports due to the dwindling oil fortunes. What should be done to ensure they succeed?
The cargo sub-sector today is one of the most prominent, viable and promising of all the sectors in the aviation industry and I think that most of the airlines earn a lot of revenue from the cargo sector. Yes, it is a good idea but then, merely announcing cargo airports without adequate facilities will not work. So, whatever they are doing has to be planned. Building cargo airports where you have the farmers but without infrastructure, such as good road network around them, cold room as well as other facilities storage facilities is a mere jamboree.
Government has announced plan to privatize some of its major airports. How should it go about it to avoid the inefficiency still being experienced in similar agencies that have been privatized?
It’s a good plan, but it has to be done well because private models have worked everywhere, it should not be sold to friends, it has to be advertised. Airport are not just for commercial interest, they are very sensitive facilities for the country, they airports must not only be good, they must be user-friendly as well.
So, everything you do here must be planned well. When you privatise, government relaxes and the private operators take the ownership, put in their money there and manage them to make profit, they will not like to have any undue interference stoppage there because his money is involved.
Private airports will really work if they are planned well.
What are the effects of the present foreign exchange regime on the cargo handling sector?
The forex is having untold effects on the cargo business. Since Nigeria depends mainly on imports, the exchange rate problem also affects the imports because what importer spent on commodities before has now doubled. As a result of this, every item that comes into the country has become expensive since our international trade depends on the dollar.
The situation in the sector is further compounded by the fact that due to the Central Bank of Nigeria policy foreigners operating in the airline could repatriate their accumulated earnings home. The exchange rate has led to a significant drop in the volume of imports into the country. Imports is paid by people out there because the shippers ship their consignment to the consignee here and the consignee is paying in dollars, he cannot pay in naira. So, if somebody bought a product last year and the same product is costing almost double this year, what will he do?
And because the cost of importation has gone so high, the market is low, even some of traders have stopped importing.
Why is it that over the years the cargo sub-sector of the aviation has taken the back seat?
During the oil boom, people tended to neglect the sub-sector but now due to the dwindling oil prices globally coupled with the down turn in the economy, exports have become one of the major factors and cargoes always play major economic role for any country, the link between getting the stuffs in and out of any country is cargo related, whether air freight or sea freight, you need the cargo operation to succeed.
So, basically, cargo plays a very important role in aviation and my vision for cargo is to have a fantastic cargo operation that will play its expected role in the light of the current financial challenges Nigeria is facing.
IATA in its ranking of cargo volume last year said Africa ranked very low and Nigeria in particular, what is responsible for that and what should be done to improve on it?
A lot of factors are responsible for it. Firstly, the government never promoted the cargo business, just like I said, during the oil boom people were made so much money from there but neglected other areas including the cargo sub-sector. Export has not really played its expected role before now because no serious and conscious efforts have been made in the past to promote it, What should have constituted the bulk of Nigeria’s export are agricultural produce, but like I said conscious effort were not made in the past to promote it because of over dependence on petrol export.
How do we correct the imbalance?
To correct the imbalance, basically, government should look out for more exports. It should motivate its people who I see to be very hardworking. When a country has that, the country has an asset in the fact that it has an industrious and rich population that could readily provide the needed labour. When this is done there would be more than enough to engage the cargo operation.
Secondly, for exports, there should be a lot of incentives given to the farmers so that they can produce more for export.
The roads, transportation and connectivity is not so good to bring in goods to Lagos or nearest airport, the storage facilities are not there, all these have to be put in place, a lot of backing from the government is required and farmers have to be given incentives.
You will need a lot of government support for the aviation industry to grow, we have to do something about the custom duties that are very high, help the farmers out, have production within the country for export, identify key countries you want to export to, government has a lot of role to play in encouraging the cargo sub-sector of aviation to grow.
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