Mr. Fortune Iduh, Coordinator , Nigerian Aviation Awards for eight years says that some domestic airlines are making progress despite the unfavorable operating environment . He says generally, however that aviation in the country is at its lowest ebb. He spoke with CHUKWUEMEKE IWELUNMO on the forthcoming NIGAV awards in Lagos. Excerpts
What is NIGAV awards all about?
NIGAV, Nigerian Aviation Award is a Nigerian aviation development promotion programme, which we started over eight years ago to carry out a process of rewarding, recognizing individuals and organisatons, who have performed excellently well in promoting development in the aviation and air transport industry.
Most times, when an industry is still in the infancy, because if you compare Nigeria aviation development with all that world aviation, you will find out that we are still almost at the beginning stage. But in industry like that, you need to carry out processes for acknowledging and encouraging individuals and organisations; one to maintain best practices, two to carry out competition amongst themselves because competition is healthy for the industry.
Three, to develop the required manpower to meet the technical needs of the industry. All these requires serious work and it is not enough for passengers to fly safely and land safely without us looking behind and see those people who are behind these successful trips. So these are what Nigerian Aviation Award is designed to do.
How supportive are the aviation agencies as well as airlines and the individuals that you give awards to?
This event has a history; when we started it, we were looking at doing aviation exhibition, conference and awards, but we realised that overtime, we were having difficult actually growing the exhibition part because there were not too many new players coming in, and that is peculiar with the industry.
The industry is slow to growth but has the capacity to fast track developments in other areas because of the capital intensity that is required to develop the industry.
So , we had this history where the other part of our NIGAV programme was not really moving, we started and concentrated on doing review and analyses of the industry and taking time to look at how we can actually encourage both the airline and airport, the engineering sector, the insurance, all sectors or sub-sectors that are involved in helping to facilitate air transport; we try to bring them into the event.
The airline industry, as you know is an industry struggling in Nigeria, it is not like it is very well of for them, but they have been very cooperative.
Airlines like Dana, we have Medview, Air Peace; we have the local airlines that have shown very keen interest. We have Arik, Aero have always participated in our previous events.
Also, we have started having interest on the foreign airlines, I am sure that this year’s event, a lot of foreign airlines will be coming in to participate in the event. We are at the stage whereby we are just encouraging them.
You know it requires money to do that, but we believe that overtime, it will graduate into an event where all the airlines and airports and all industry players in the aviation sector will be there to participate.
This years, there is a kind of addition that looks like a beauty pageant whereby crew members are incorporated into the award. What informed the new initiative?
If you remember last year, among the list of opportunities and categories we have for the award, we included the crew members. What informed that was that we believe it is part of increasing passenger experience. It is also the behavior and composure of crew members and how they handle passengers on board.
Part of aviation security is actually the human behavior. If we have crew members that have good self-confidence, understands their roles, very safety conscious and they can manage passengers very well, I think inflight experience will be great.
We opened it up last year and Dana staff won as the best air hostess of the year. This year, we tried to step it up a little bit. We think that all the other airlines can come in, so we can have a healthy competition. But this time, we brought a bit of entertainment into it, because travel experience has entertainment aspects, comfort, joy and a feeling of goodness. We now say we could have the air crew compete amongst themselves on individual bases.
But the greater percentage of this evaluation of their competence will be on winners on how they handle their safety announcements.
So, it is not about the profession itself; we are not looking at the beauty, handsomeness, or finest member of the crew.
We are looking at the member of the crew who is smart, who can speak clearly, eloquently; who can make his announcements very well; who understands how to handle passengers.
Such crew member will win the award which we call the Queen of The Air or the King of The Air. I think it is fantastic and it is the first time it is being done in anywhere in the world. I have gone round on the internet to check and it has never been done. I think in the future, Gods willing, it will be Nigerian gift to the world in aviation promotion.
Is there other monetary benefits attached to it?
There is cash reward. The cash reward is there for incentive. And among all the awards that we have been giving; this is the only award that has cash reward.
This is actually the only award that is on sight assessment.
The other awards are basically, when we started, we used to do a bit of the review of the industry by myself and my team. I used to consult the media to know what is going on in the industry and those who need to be encouraged.
This time, we opened it up to the public. We had an advert on the internet, encouraging people to send in nominations; some nominations were received. That forms just 25 percent of our decision to reward people because it is still at infancy and a great deal of it also depends on us. Don’t forget that this is a self-funded project.
In as much as we will be giving cash reward to some people now, and also we are also giving contributions to SOS as charity. It is purely a private sector driven personal funded event. It is treated as such.
How would you describe the voting patterns of Nigerians since you said you opened the website for people to contribute? Were you satisfied with the new initiative?
Well, for the first time we had an open public input which we had never been able to do. That is a big step. I am very grateful to those who nominated, voted and those who showed interest. I know it is a struggle in process and awareness will help to increase participation in that process.
To be honest, the industry is reluctant, of course you know, the industry is a bit naïve in terms of coming out in the public when it comes to issue of a competition but you need to have a way to encourage them. But you must start, otherwise, you will never start.
Impact for the past eight years?
The good thing is that what we actually set out to achieve in the beginning was achieved very quickly. That is starting up a process of positive competition amongst people. That I have seen and you have seen in the airport industry.
This year, we have about three of the airports actually competing amongst themselves and most of the airport managers do tell me, that I hope this year, I will win NIGAV award. We have had remarkable people.
The first person who won the first Airport Manager Of The Year had been noted to have carried this same performance from Calabar Airport to Abuja Airport and other airports are looking at maybe him coming one day to show himself in those places; so that is remarkable. That is value.
Now, amongst the airlines, we have this serious competition, so that is why I took it the other way. Let us start with the crew first. You will find out that if we succeed with that, the airline as a whole will follow. We need at this point to actually call on the regulatory agency, the NCAA.
We need a serious partnership, a serious support. I have written them in the past to request a collaboration between us and them to form a committee that will help to evaluate and put up some criteria that can help us to judge people.
That is why you see us, we are not talking about pilots right now because we have actually consulted the pilots association to ask them to give us a criteria on how to decide the Best Pilot of The Year. That area, we are not talking about it.
There are area also, the industry is not just about pilots; even the cleaners at the airports are equally important. It is a process that is worth remarking. It is a process that will lead to somewhere. For us to be on it for 8 years, it does mean that we have resilience and ability to sustain what we are doing.
The first thing is finance. The fact is that we are actually self-funded. Funding this event actually comes from money which I actually raised from other activities which the FCA International, the parent organization is involved in.
We are involved in training, capacity building, consultancy services and transport corridor. We are able to raise money to carry out a one-year continuous promotion of the industry but however, the industry still sees it as a last minute to respond thing. Which means nobody talks to us until some few days to the event.
That is one of our biggest challenge.
We want to have an event that the industry can flow along with us. From the beginning, the airlines, the airports, the regulators and safety management agencies, insurance and all those who have interest in the industry can flow with us from the beginning.
So, that we can be able to evaluate their responses and make plans. If we don’t have response, we cannot shut the process. It is like election. You cannot say because you people did not come out to vote, you cannot elect a leader.
The few people that come out will be taken seriously. I am not discouraged but I believe we will get there. I like to ask for serious support, financial support, and moral. Industry player should come in, they can join me in the process and they can come in as member of the committee and we will be very glad to have them do, so that we all can work for the progress of the industry.
What categories are we looking at this award?
We are looking at various categories and over 40 categories have actually been earmarked. Some of them have been taken, some of them have not been taken. We have two different levels of recognition.
Those who will get public nominations is considered as an award; those who we now give award is considered as recognition. You cannot tell me that the industry players and the leaders of the industry, even if as civil servants, they did not come out to be voted for are not doing anything. I know they are doing something and it is my business to recognize them and that encourages them.
When you recognize them, you are telling them that we now you are doing this and we know you can do better. Overtime, they will not come down from the level which we have found them. That is what we are doing. Those two sections of awards are going to be given and the last one now whish is on stage award. In all these, we have over 40 categories.
We have airline of the year, aviation personality, airport manager of the year. We covered in MRO, retail, airport taxi, and media. We covered in all sectors of the industry. Everybody is there and we are getting response but it is just slow.
Since the industry is male dominated; are you also considering female pilots ad engineers?
One of the most striking award we are giving is the best air medical personality of the year which is got to do with aviation medical emergency response. We have that and am sure that you know, the most prominent person we are looking at today is in the female category.
I am not leaking this out, but we also have air hostess. Among pilots and engineers, we also have females, especially in airport operations. When it comes to pilots and engineers, it is still open and we are expecting. This year, we haven’t gotten any nomination in that regard, but we believe that overtime, maybe hopefully next year, we will have someone in that category.