FAAN in race against time to stem airport facilitation crisis

The last few months have been harrowing for international airlines and passenger facilitation. FAAN has been called to question for not quickly filling the void left by the coming to end of SITA deal. However, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Time will tell how much long travelers and airlines would have to wait to truly see this come to a quick end, writes, WOLE SHADARE

Excruciating pain

The difficulty of the processing of international passengers at both the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja may soon be over if the words of the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Capt. Rabiu Yadudu are to be believed. The FAAN chief has always lived up to his words in the provision of basic things that make air travel enjoyable and memorable

Yadudu had at a seminar held in Lagos recently said the Federal Government had already started taking delivery of equipment from RESA of France; a situation that could make the cost effective Common Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE) system come on stream sooner than later.

The biggest headache yet for Yadudu was the FAAN- Societe International Telecommunication Aeronautiques (SITA) conundrum occasioned by some contractual agreement that has left air travel so painful and tortuous to many international air travelers.

Foreign airlines operating out of the country have been going through hectic time with passenger facilitation and quick departure of passengers following the coming to end of ten year contractual agreement between FAAN and SITA for automation of the international airports in Nigeria which came to an end on May 2, 2021.

 

FAAN MD, Capt. Rabiu Yadudu

SITA deal ends

The coming to and of a ten year contractual pact between SITA and FAAN without seamless filling of the void had thrown international airlines into serious difficulty, forcing virtually all of the to bear the cost of supplying themselves with their own system that allow them to check in their passengers including tagging of baggage among other security identification.

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While Arlington Security Nigeria Services is still grappling with some issues, the inability to find a stop-gap for the process which was hitherto handled by SITA and which FAAN had allegedly urged airlines to partly fund has led to issues between the airlines and the airport authority.

The ten year agreement that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) penned with Societe International Telecommunication Aeronautiques (SITA) for automation of the international airports in Nigeria came to an end on May 2, 2021.

SITA’s contract with FAAN which was extended by six months had run its course. The situation came without adequate preparation for a new soft ware solution to provide passengers processing at the major airports; a situation that is expected to throw passenger facilitation into chaos as from next week.

The Federal Executive Council (FEC) had early this year approved N10 billion to Arlington Security Nigeria Services for the automation of five international airports. The airports are those in Lagos, Enugu, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano.

CUTE system

The system would facilitate Common Use of Terminal Equipment (CUTE) system required for sharing airport resources in accordance with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Recommendation 1797.

While the crisis lingered, representatives of IATA, FAAN and all the airlines held a strategic meeting to resolve the matter to avoid an avoidable crisis occasioned by inability to process passengers beyond point to point destinations.

 

Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos

FAAN’s notice

FAAN had in a letter to all station managers in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port-Harcourt, titled, “Smart App Project Implementation in Abuja, Port-Harcourt, Lagos and Abuja”, dated March 30th, 2021 and signed by General Manager, ICT, FAAN, Charles Nwachi, states in part,” This is to re-emphasised  the need and urgency for your airline to join the smart app project implementation”.

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“It is therefore imperative that all international airlines integrate with the Arlington/ICT SmartApp solution immediately as agree in our last meeting of December 11, 2020 with FAAN with FAAN top management in order to avoid service disruption”.

He further stated, “We wish to bring to your notice that with effect from May 1, 2021, the current common use passenger processing system being managed by SITA at the Abuja and Lagos airport shall cease to be operational. You may wish to note that the Arlington /ICT SmartApp solution will not attract extra charges beyond the ones in existence”.

“Once again, the Arlington/ICTS SmartApp solution can be linked to any airline’s DCS directly through WBS and is a complete check-in system with support for various airline print configurations for both boarding pass and baggage tags. As this connection is direct to the host, integration with airlines is also fast and seamlessly”.

Nwachi further disclosed that the Arlington/ICTS Smart App integration is free as FAAN has paid for all associated costs and the introduction of the SmartApp solution will not attract extra charges beyond the one in existence.

Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika who got the FECs approval said the contract was awarded to Arlington Security Nigeria Limited with the timeline of 12 months stating that the system would facilitate Common Use of Terminal Equipment (CUTE) system required for sharing airport resources in accordance with IATA Recommendation 1797.

 

Crowded Lagos airport

According to him, this allows flexible sharing of resources for check-in and boarding, such as servers, work stations, associated peripherals between airlines and handling agencies present at the airport.

The minister also said the system would also provide for baggage drop, which makes it faster and quicker for passenger processing and would also provide for E-gates that would be electronically operated.

There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for resolving the situation that has made Nigeria a laughing stock among nations that are desirous of making air travel seamless.

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FAAN’s position

Explaining the authority’s side of the story, Yadudu said, “I believe FAAN has already moved forward. What brought about the whole issue is that we decided to improve the whole process. The 10-year SITA contract for Lagos and Abuja airports expired last year and FAAN decided to improve the process.

“Even while the SITA contract ran, some services were not rendered by SITA. Nonetheless, we ran an open procurement process for the service to be renewed. This type of service is run by only two or three companies in the world. We advertised, two companies responded, and SITA didn’t respond creditably. They gave foreign documents. Naturally, the one that responded with our own documents won. It is a long history but it is all behind us”.

The new contract and the project, he said have already been approved by President Muhammadu Buhari, noting that the authority had improved the process from two airports to now cover all the five international airports – Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu.

 

Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos

“At the end of the day, it is going to be better for all of us. We have already started taking delivery of equipment from RESA of France. FAAN went with the right procurement process and we got a better deal. I believe by the middle of next month, we shall be ready to move forward”.

Last line

Stakeholders are of the view that the situation FAAN found itself was avoidable if it did its home work well to avoid the unnecessary pain inflicted on airlines and travelers.

Wole Shadare