Managing Director of Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL), Alhaji Olu Owolabi is a man who does not believing in blowing his trumpet. He prefers a situation where members of the public would to do an assessment of his performance and objectively rate him based on their assessment of the performance.
Since he became the managing director of ground handling company almost a year ago, he seldom grants media interview However, after much persuasions recently, he agreed to talk and shed lights into how far his management has been able to ‘paddle the canoe’ of the company, successes recorded, challenges and future plans of the foremost ground handling company in Nigeria.
Few years ago SAHCOL was a crawling ground handling firm in the aviation industry in the country; but after its acquisition as a private business concern by the SIFAX group and less than a year after you took over the saddle of leadership in the company the story has change and SAHCOL has become the formidable force in ground handling business in the aviation industry in Nigeria. How did you achieve this?
So far we’ve been able to transform a lot of things with the help of our able Chairman of Sifax Group who is also the Chairman of SAHCOL, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi.
It equally proves that having privatisation given to the right people and putting the right caliber of people to manage such outfit like him and zeal with which to transform SAHCOL, it shows that privatisation could work but subject to whoever buys it and whoever has the interest of the government and of the people in mind.
We've been able to keep our clients and able to attract new ones into the system as a family.
What we do tell them on joining us is that- we are part of the same family because we work together to ensure smooth passenger handling, smooth passenger and baggage handling based on our capability within our system.
This is because part of baggage handling entails the need to have functioning conveyor belt. So if there is delay on having your baggage on arrival that should not be our fault. But the departures of our flights have been very constant.
At least we've been able to assist all our clients in the range of 90-98 per cent on time departures which is highly reasonable.
Prior to this period, Pilferage was a great problem in the industry how were you able to combat it to a halt?
On the domestic scene, we’ve been able to transform a lot of things on behalf of our clients. The issue of theft has been drastically reduced.
So customers can feel safe of their baggage on arrival and departure at which ever ends they see their baggage, they meet it intact as nothing would happen to it because we have zero tolerance on the issue of theft.
We've able to train our staff and more emphasis placed on staff behaviour and training which transforms our behaviour and successes to what we are having today.
We train them in a lot of areas in terms of loading, checking in and in terms of humane behaviour and then within the year we've been able to enter into the company of security awareness with membership of IATA-ISAGO.
We are number three or four in the whole of Africa. NAHCO has it before us but we came after them. Since then we have been well recognised in terms of security awareness and all other conformities required by International Air Transport Association (IATA).
On passenger handling and chartered operations how are you performing?
On the local scene we have been able to single-handedly handle the airlift of Christian Pilgrims. We are proud to be the sole handler of Christian Pilgrims and also we have been able to handle Hajj and Umra with a greater percentage and all these achievements were recorded through the help of the staff who are ready for positive change.
If the staff and management of SAHCOL were not ready for change we would not have achieved the successes so far recorded.
Human capacity development as you mentioned, is key to the success of your business, how are you going about achieving this?
Like I said earlier regarding training, our training school at GRA, Ikeja, have been modernized and we got approval from NCAA for conducting training at the place and in coming year we expect IATA to also approve the place for training.
It’s a quiet place and very conducive for training and learning. We wish any firm that desires to train or re-train it staff within the system, be it Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and even Nigerian Airspace management Agency (NAMA) officials should find time to visit the place to affirm the quietness of the place already equipped with modern training facilities.
We have what we call training the trainers in each of our departments training the staff. Even right here at Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), we have a training school apart from the one in GRA equipped fully for short training. If we have any of the airlines coming in for short training, may be they have some adjustment like changing the aircraft type they use.
The training facilities here will accommodate between 25 and 30 students at once with all the necessary gadgets and equipment and we have invested so much on them.
Your operations rely on both human and equipment to thrive especially in this era of competition how far have you gone acquiring the right equipments for your operation to deliver seamless service to your clients?
As regards equipment, so far before the end of January, 2013, we will bring a number of unprecedented equipment coming in to support what we already have on ground.
Our idea is that when you have nice and new equipment, your clients will be happy and be willing to continue business with you.
The equipment expected to be delivered to us include- all the ground handling equipment in all areas of our job specifications like the FMCs, Push Backs, Dollies, Trollies, Cargo King to Baggage handling and many more.
We are spending so much on equipment this year and these equipment will be coming in as I said, before end of next month.
Warehouse is equally very important to your operation a requirement was not given you client in the past has that been addressed?
You have seen what is happening there (construction site). I promised about six months ago that before the year runs out you will be seeing one of the most modern warehouses within West Africa that we are going to construct.
The construction of the ultra-modern warehouse has gone half way to completion. You can see it yourself if you go to the Cargo Village.
This is in line with what the Aviation Minister said about encouraging the private sector to come into aviation , especially in the field of cargo and many more.
So, we've been there and those of us that are already there have ,invested a lot of resources in it and we only needed to be encouraged by giving us an enabling environment so that those that invest heavily in the cargo sector of the industry should be able to recoup back their investment and make profit.
Talking about conducive environment, I mean the roads leading to the airport is in bad shape, the Cargo Tarmac cannot at present accommodate more than two wide -body aircraft at once and if they are more than two, they have to park at the international passenger wing of MMIA and doesn’t augur well and I am sure the Minister is looking into this.
Half of that tarmac has already been reconstructed, but there is the urgent need for its completion. The reconstruction was initiated by the former Minister but has since been abandoned.
There is the need for its completion now to accommodate at least six to seven wide-body aircraft at any given time. We have been making representations on this to official quarters.
As you must have noticed, Etihad, DHL and other cargo airlines are coming in with wide-body aircraft and I feel they should be encouraged. This is the type of enabling environment I was referring to.
The current re-modeling that entails passenger facilitation is a welcome development. I learnt that the new conveyor belt has been delivered and awaiting installation for the new face of MMIA. If all these are put in place, it will help us to work effectively and transform passengers' facilitation.
What are the major challenges to the expansion programme in the business?
One of our challenges is getting new equipment in place to meet with the expansion of our business scope. Human behaviour is part our challenges and we have been training our staff on how to relate very well with our customers.
At times, government regulations do affect us, but we try as much as we can, to abide and then to request for enabling environment. For example the taxes are on the high side, the rents being charged by FAAN at our airports had gone up but like I said, we will do our best to adjust and continue to appeal to the authorities for some discounts for us to be able to reach out to more Nigerians as regards employment opportunity. For now, it’s very tight.
We are almost in 30 States of the federation. We took over from SAHCOL/Nigeria Airways platform. That is why we are happy with the coming of more airlines and we are on ground in most of the country's airports and you know what that entails-keeping staff and equipment in all the airports.
We planned to expand outward in future, it’s part of our future expansion plan. We feel SAHCOL should not only expand beyond Nigeria but also have alliance with some other handling companies outside the shore of Nigeria.
We are looking at that and the West Coast. We are looking at the areas of our competence. However, at the moment we want to consolidate our successes on the home front first and ensure that we are firmly on ground here before spreading our tentacles outside Nigeria; that the quality of services we render to our customers here and our countrymen are of high standard/quality by making passengers comfortable through the airlines we are handling; to allow cargo to come in using modern warehouse and state of the art equipment and make delivery of cargo to Nigerians easy.
In addition we want to have a corporate headquarters that will project the image of the company as that of qualitative service provider. The Minister, Princess Stella Adazez-Oduah, the Director General of NCAA, Dr Harold Demuren and the Managing Director of FAAN, Mr George Uriesi have all been supportive in all our developmental projects and we must commend them.