February 7, 2023

Nigeria Transport Hub

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Capt Paul Mamman Thahal’s thoughts on Nigerian air transport & the nation’s polity

8 min read

Capt Paul Thahal fielding questions

The interview below was conducted a decade ago, with Captain Paul Mamman Thahal. Recall Capt Thahal died 7th September 2020 and was buried 14th September 2020. His narratives on the multiple entries, Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA, deployment of either radar or satellite in the nation’s airspace management, the much-touted issue on whether to have a national carrier or flag carrier are all as insightful as they were when he made them ten years ago. It is a priviledge to share the views of such eminent and highly revered personality for today’s industry leaders to glean on the invaluable thoughts, which without an iota of doubt, are like an apple of gold in a silver carving.

Sir, can you afford readers a comparative analysis of the operating environment now {2011} and when you presided over the administration of Nigerian Airways?

There is no doubt in my mind the whole scenario is just a continuum. Apart from natural changes that the operating environment would inspire because, what we used to do will not be the same as what is happening today, but the main concern is the safety factor. It is my belief that even if Nigeria Airways was left as a standard to be emulated, definitely it would have been a good idea. And this is lacking today.

I hope that the government will see the wisdom in creating a company as a national carrier so it can provide adequate training purposes, this is my concern. One of the reasons for the concern was the development a few years ago when a disconcerting number of crashes occurred. I pray such never happened again. However, I still strongly feel there is the need for a very serious consideration for a standard national carrier for the country.

Capt Paul Thahal not only fielded questions but volunteered a tutorial to the Editor

What kind of management structure would you recommend in running the national carrier in order to be able to be profitable?

As much as I don’t like dwelling in the past, the erstwhile Nigeria Airways should have been sold to professionals. And if run as a flag carrier, I know funding wouldn’t have been a problem because a lot of poorer countries have national airlines and for that reason, Nigeria too should have a national carrier.

It would not only be a profit-making organization but also provide a model for other domestic and regional operators yet, it would not be hindered from running profitably. There are many cases of successful general airlines and national carriers all around the world. So we will be killing two or even three birds with one stone.

Sir, did you mean a national carrier with the government having a percentage of equity and other interest groups with technical know-how and the general public buying into it as we have with the British Airways ownership structure?

Yes, that could be a good idea. The idea of having a complete government concern is a thing of the past. It should be sort of Public-Private Partnership, with the government. This would attract high capital to operate and inspire high management standard and provide a high standard of training for new entrants thus bridging the gap occasioned by the ageing manpower.

What is your take on the raging discussion on airports privatization and concession?
It is a brilliant idea to have airports privatized. But there must be a standard and this standard must be of parity to what obtains in the United Kingdom or preferably similar to the model obtained in the United States of America, or Canada.

A close look at the USA shows a module which gives responsibility to the airlines rather than the airport owners/management. So if I have a choice, I will adopt one of such models. Although the Americans manufacture more aircraft than the Europeans, there are a lot of good qualities within the European air transport industry for emulation.

Capt Paul Thahal, arriving at the rendezvous for the interview

The new Minister of Aviation seems averse to Total Radar Coverage project, others are touting satellite-based navigation while we’re still on the terrestrial base navigation, what would you recommend for adoption?

During my days we used to have the radar. But today, the satellite is in vogue. Be that as it may, I will still recommend the combination of the two. Both are useful because radar may not be affected as much by the weather but satellite may be. For that reason, I am recommending the two methods should be adopted for now and gradually slide to satellite whenever found most auspicious.

Furthermore, one of the things which I think is the challenge during the landing period and much other such stuff depends on the power supply. And power supply in Nigeria is still very deficient, but in both cases you still need power. Our power supply can improve, by using our gas properly. My worry is not only about radar coverage, but communication especially during landing.

No doubt our power supply needs to be upgraded so that any aircraft could be controlled properly because if you have a number of aircraft landing in Lagos or Abuja the facilities might not be able to improve the traffic range as you see in overseas. I mean one, two, three aircraft closely following one another. But here, the separation is much wider or longer, for that reason we are lucky that we don’t have too many flights otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to cover them adequately. So we have a lot to do in air navigation, communication and in radar/[radio] coverage.

LEFT: Capt Prex Porbeni, {facilitated the interview} Former Director of Operations, Nigeria Airways, with his former boss, Capt Paul Thahal, former Managing Director, Nigeria Airways

What is your take on the emerging fad whereby each state government is jostling to build an airport?

It is good to have airports. But we have to be careful not to have as many airports as we have cars on the road today. It should be rationally planned. It looks to me that either the Ministry of Aviation or the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, is not in charge.

This is because the state governors will just wake up, pronounce they need an airport to bring development to their people and they go ahead and build it. There has to be a standard by the ministry of civil aviation or the civil aviation regulatory authority to prescribe the type of airport for A, B, and C states and ensure adherence to that.

What kind of person would you be glad to see steering the affairs of government in the aviation industry in Nigeria?

Some years ago, we have anybody becoming the minister of aviation, I am not against that per se because it’s a political office. But if there is any technical field, it should be an aviator to attend to that. But with due respect, I think we have enough know-how today like, they have professionals as a minister in the ministry of Justice, Health, Finance and other ministries. I strongly feel we should have a technical person, probably a Pilot or Aeronautic Engineer or anybody who is well-grounded in aviation to mount that ministry.

LEFT: Capt Prex Porbeni, Capt Paul Thahal and Akin Kola-Akinlade

How much support do you have for the notion called federal character?

I do not believe in the federal character. A Nigerian is a Nigerian anywhere he may be. For me, I feel at home wherever I am. In fact, most Nigerians would not bother about where they come from. The moment we talk about federal character, we are reviewing and reducing the level and standard of patriotic zeal in us. We should coexist very comfortably among ourselves. And if anybody is good, technically competent, possesses adequate years of unblemished track record, wherever he or she comes from should never be seen as a hindrance to render zealous service to his/her fatherland.

Taking a cursory view on some of the agreements the nation is a signatory, the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA, including the multiple destinations granted nearly all foreign airlines, how healthy are theses for the nation?

You’re unwittingly taking me back to the issue of the national carrier. Frankly speaking, this bilateral agreement and multiple destinations, we should avoid like a leper. And even if we should near it, we should have a caveat because people are coming and then collecting money and we are not with the capacity to reciprocate.

So, we should sit down since we have people who are capable to make a commercial success of the venture, well-grounded technical people to converge and write a proposal to the government and say since we cannot do this, this is what we want to do and this is how we want to do it.

If critical review is not done, just what we experienced with our oil fields and many other things, disorderliness will soon be the order of the day. People are here scooping everything and aviation is a good example of scooping Nigerians’ money and I strongly feel we should modify the bilateral agreement.

LEFT: Editor, Akin Kola-Akinlade, Capt Paul Thahal Captn Prex Porbeni, and Charles Flames

Are there practical ways or deeds in your own estimation that you can say the foreign airlines have been fare to us as a nation?

You’re just leading me to the issue of airfare again. Our route from Nigeria to Europe is the most expensive in comparison to the fare for similar distance in other parts of the world. We are a poor country and we should have a cheaper rate but, they make it more expensive for us. Tell the government and its concerned agencies this fact so as to prod them to do something about this for Nigerians.

Who is Captain Paul Thahal?

I came from a simple background, from a place I think makes me qualified to call myself a Nigerian. My parents came from Borno, I was born in Adamawa, I lived my life in Lagos and I’m welcomed anywhere in Nigeria. I fervently wish all Nigerians will call themselves Nigerians without being belaboured on the state or local government origin. Hence, all Nigerians should live like a Nigerian and definitely be recognized as such anywhere within the geographical areas called the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Thanks for your time.

The discourse above is reproduced raw as it was published in a sister publication named, ALTITUDE, {although rested for now} a printed magazine on aviation, tourism and hospitality

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