Christophe Pennick, is the Chief Executive Officer, Bi Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL). In this interview with some journalists in Lagos, Pennick speaks on the need for Nigeria government to end court cases in the sector and problems of managing concessions in the domestic aviation industry and how investments in airport infrastructure can be a catalyst for economic development. OREOLUWA ASHIMOLOWO, was there for NEWSVERGE. Excerpts;
What is the scale of operations at the terminal?
The MMA 2 terminal is running very well for aeronautical and non–aeronautical operations. The activities are related but different. We have utilised eight years of the concession agreement and we still have twenty eight more years to go, because the concession is for thirty six years, looking at what we have achieved in the last eight years, many good things have happened.
We hope for increased activities in the next twenty eight years and we are steadily growing. For now, we have five domestic carriers operating their flights from this terminal, major airlines operate from here, but a few airlines have challenges and we are supporting the carriers with difficult times. We are looking forward to growth in the terminal capacity and we are recording about 10 per cent growth which is above the global industry average.
What is your assessment of airport concessions in Nigeria?
An airport concession is an interesting concept in infrastructure development. But, airport concession in Nigeria, seen from the point of view of public-private partnership (PPP) is still a novelty. The reason is very simple. Nigeria, until about eight years ago, has not been involved in any form of public-private partnership in airport development through the model called concession.
To a large extent, it is still very new in this part of the world. Interestingly, both parties, that is, the government through its agencies and Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited involved in the concession agreement are still learning the rules governing airport concession; in this case, the concession of the new domestic terminal two of the Lagos Airport. The parties are still learning what to do about the concession and how to make it work. Although there is a document called the Concession Agreement that ought to guide the contracting parties, it is very clear that government is trying to pull the blanket under the feet of Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited. This is despite that the terms and conditions of the concession are very clear in the agreement.
How does this affect the implementation of the agreement?
For us in particular, there are few issues still left unresolved as it affects the supposed hand over of the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), at the domestic wing of the Lagos Airport, because it is covered in the scope of the concession agreement. Government through the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is making it difficult for us as a company to use that aspect of the agreement, which is clearly expressed in the scope of the concession agreement. The agreement was very precise in giving us as a company right to manage the terminal, which in this case refers to as the MMA 2 and GAT, and not one of the terminals as the other party to the agreement is claiming. There is a big difference. People will say this is unfair completion, but in many parts of the world, airports are supposed to be a quasi–monopoly.
Why should government look at the agreement in a way that suggests that if this concession it has signed with any firm succeeds, it should be looking for any way to take it back from the concessions because it is successful?
For instance in the United Kingdom, with particular reference to London Heathrow Airport, which has a much more developed traveling market, it was only recently that the British Airport Authority was mandated to separate and give the total management of Gatwick Airport to another company. Until recently it was one company. Do not forget that Gatwick and Heathrow are not the same airports. They are two different airports.
Here in Nigeria, the traveling market is not that developed, big enough, so I think it was an opportunity for Nigeria, without sufficient funds to engage the private sector to assist to build a decent domestic airport terminal in Lagos. I am convinced that what Bi-Courtney Services Limited has done in building and managing the MMA2, is an example of what is to be done. The reason for this is very simple, because the terminal is best handled by the private sector in Nigeria.
What about the controversies surrounding the airport concession and its terms?
So going back to the concession and its terms, its scope, it would have been easier for government to say, Bi-Courtney you run all the domestic flights and FAAN run international flights and let us see who does it better. Unfortunately, things have gone very different today.
But, thank God we have survived, through different attacks. And like the saying goes what does not kill you makes you stronger. But, I think that how is it to manage an airport concession and what I think about the way it has been done is to simply say we are still learning.
I think we have gone very far, in our eight years of managing a private airport terminal in Nigeria. I am convinced we are going from strength to strength.
Are there opportunities in airport concessions and management in Nigeria?
I am optimistic that opportunities still exists to get involved in more airport concessions in Nigeria. The prospects are there. I think we are a perfect example of learning out of experience as a company to handle such business. Yes, we have gathered a lot of experience, not only from the operations side but, also from the legal perspective to do the business better, if we are approached for another concession agreement by government. A few concessions have gone wrong in Nigeria.
The Bi-Courtney Agreement to build and manage the MMA2 has been quite successful because as a company we have been able to defend ourselves in the various attacks. So, I will say that Nigeria could use a few other concessions, but I would say to anybody who wants to endeavor into any concession concerning airport infrastructure or reacted areas must have the experience and deal with the ignorance of some parties involved the writing and signing of concession agreements and for foreign companies that want to date into such ventures must endeavor to have a strong Nigerian partner.
Why do you think airport concessions in Nigeria are problematic?
The reasons why airport concessions in Nigeria has gone the wrong way is for many reasons. If any public private partnership concession agreement must be signed, it should be based on the clear understanding that government and other contracting parties must see the concession as an opportunity to develop private enterprise.
In the beginning it was difficult to attract more people to do business at the terminal because of the seeming hostile relationship between tenants and landlord. But, we have gone steps further to forge our relationship as being more than that. The existing tenants and future tenants understand that we are here to make their business thrive.