Flight delays and cancellation due to inclement weather remains one of the many challenges facing the aviation industry and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) has consistently provided weather advisory for the sector to aid its operations.
However, this service has for a long contributed to over 90 percent of the agency’s revenue.
But according to the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NiMET, Prof. Bako Mansur Matazu, who was appointed in March this year, the agency is working hard to diversify its streams of income rather than depending on what it is getting from the aviation sector.
To achieve this, the agency is working on commercialising more of its services and Matazu projects that before the end of next year, it would have increased the ratio of revenue from other sectors from 10 to 30 percent and above. He speaks on this and other matters: Excerpts
Our main mandate is to provide weather climate services and advisory to government and Nigerians and this we do in three layers – one is the public weather service which includes the daily and weekly weather forecast. The second is the climate support service for the Ministry of Agriculture, Health, Works, Maritime and others rely on the data that we provide to be able to plan their activities. We also give support to MDAs at no cost. The last one is the delivery of products and services based on requests from organisations and individuals which involve a lot of work and that is the area that we are commercialising, especially in the maritime industry just like the aviation industry.
Ships coming into Nigeria usually buy important information from other sources around the globe and Nigeria is losing revenue, so we are working on something that would be signed in the next few weeks with Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). We have already started providing skeletal services to the industry through NIMASA and with the full implantation of the Memorandum of Understanding, there is a charge attached to such services just like we have in aviation. The other aspect we are looking at is agriculture where we can provide services for farmers to be able to get forecast at a micro- mini -cost, maybe from the data that he utilises. So, we are collaborating with the telecom providers where we will provide detailed forecasts that farmers can receive on the phones.
The oil and gas industry also does onshore and offshore operations and they require tailor made weather forecast and this is an area that we are working on. When I came to NiMET, the revenue ratio we were getting was 90 percent from aviation and 10 percent from other sectors and we are working on a formula were it would be 50-50 instead of 90-10, so that we can sustain our operations. It is very dangerous for an organisation to rely only on one source of revenue, so we are aligning with the Federal Government’s diversification policy to improve our services.
We also remit revenue to the treasury but unlike some aviation agencies like FAAN, it is the government that pays our salaries and our revenue is not as huge as that of FAAN. We are working hard to maintain the high tech instruments with the revenue that we are getting. Getting these instruments is very capital intensive because we import all of them and we spend a lot to maintain them. We also implement policy management systems and they have to be up to date. NiMET has been in existence for about 130 years and currently we are available in all the airports across the country.
Weather influences all sectors of the economy whether it’s water resources, agriculture, health, and even the Centre for Disease Control, we provide with forecast on meningitis and malaria because it is climate related. We provide this at no cost because it is part of the support services that we give to MDAs. To do this, we need a lot of data refinement, analysis and seamless production of services.
The minister of aviation has helped us a great deal with our equipment importation to get waivers. We also partner with local producers and contractors that have OEM from which we can get some of the equipment. About 99 percent of our equipment are being maintained by our local engineers and many of our forecasts are done by our own meteorologists and engineers, so we do not experience much challenges.
Flying an aircraft is determined by the weather because you would require the prevailing wind direction to align the runway because aircraft lands and takes off against the wind. We have independent weather forecasting services in all our airports. In Kano, Lagos and Abuja, we have about 100 staff in each to run shifts in order to provide services per second. This forecast contains information on prevailing weather conditions and outlook. Aviation is a highly regulated sector and all airlines operate with insurance and what we call weather minimal – that is when there is a certain type of prevailing weather, you are not supposed to fly or land and sometimes, airlines experience delays because of this.
Sometimes also, it can be outright cancellation for the safety of the passengers which is the most important. There could also be operational reasons which are technical to the airlines like if one of the aircraft is undergoing maintenance. At the international airports, we have what is called ‘pilot’s briefing room’ where we encourage pilots to come and visualise the weather to prepare further. Delays and cancellations is usually due to bad weather and if it happens, the airlines should explain it and the passengers should bear with them.
We are planning to do more stakeholder meetings to educate people on weather challenges and all airlines operating in Lagos and Abuja airports will be invited for the interaction. The passengers also have rights to some form of compensation if their rights are delayed by some hours but the most important thing is to communicate in a diplomatic manner. The security of the airports strongly rely on our services for weather forecast.
NiMET vs other sectors
In the provision of weather and climate services, we have three layers in the value chain. The first is the production. We are the producers and we produce the forecast and at the second layer are the enablers, those that will consume the information and then relay it to the users. We have 54 offices and less than 2000 staff, so we don’t have access to 200 million Nigerians. We produce and relay the information made up of the ministries, partners, and even the civil society who have direct access to the users. They consume and then relay the information to the users. But we realise that a disconnect exists. We spend a lot of time and resources generating forecasts but if this forecast does not reach the users, then it will expire especially for perishable crops.
When I joined the agency, I was given the task to start downscaling our seasonal rainfall prediction to state levels and in the states, we invite all the local government officers, agric extension officers, climate change agents and farmers themselves. We downscale the forecast for that state and the implication on different sectors of the economy. For agriculture, I can tell you that we have spent a lot of time giving this information to farmers which includes when the rains would start, the total rainfall, the length, etc. When the farmer gets this information, he can then decide the type of crops that he will plan. In 2018, we covered 18 states and in 2019, we covered 28 states before the covid challenge but even then, we did it virtually for 18 states and farmers utilised our forecast reported 30 percent increase in yield from 2016 to date and in some cases, they reported up to 50 percent increase. We have agro meteorologists who are trained to interact with farmers and get feedback from them and in most of our trainings, we include agric extension officers. We are also open to partnership with private enterprises.
Our website is being upgraded and we are also on all the social media platforms and in the next few months, we would have a brand new website that it is more user friendly and interactive.
To serve a big country like Nigeria, we need large revenue inflow that would be able to sustain its services and also reach out to users. It is what informed our decision to commercialise some of our services and improve our revenue stream by diversifying so that we can expand what we are offering. We want a situation where people would sit in the comfort of their homes and request for weather forecast and they would be getting weather updates in their phones
For 2022, we want to move from 10 percent non aeronautical revenue to about 20 to 25 percent and in two years and we hope to reach 50 percent against the five to 10 percent we are having now. We are also hoping that by next year our revenue would have increased by over N300 to 500 million. We have put all the machinery on ground and we are leveraging on involving the private partnership to come and join us.