Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Captain Akin George, claimed there had been a low turnout of passengers traveling through the domestic route of Nigeria’s air space. He spoke with Chinedu Eze
Hitches in online booking
There are people that have problem with the internet. This is an infrastructure problem in Nigeria and not specific with Aero Contractors. We have issues with not just the Internet; we also have issues with software talking to software, compatibility. This also seems to be a problem.
We look at one issue that happened at Lagos International Airport when they moved from Maevis to SITA (provider of Airport Operations Management System (AOMS) . It took a while before the airlines were able to get their own system talking to the new system. And there are still hitches. Whenever you do anything electronic you have to recognise that we have power problem in Nigeria. So we are constantly switching from generator to public power supply. These things as you know constantly affect computerised system.
But by and large if you look at the amount of complaints that we have in relation to people who are travelling by checking online, it is less than .3 per cent. But the fact is that it is those that it affects that will come and make the noise, but those that benefit from it and travel have no need to come and tell you anything. On daily basis we have about 6000 passengers a day. How many of them will come and tell you they have issues but they all bought their tickets through the system.
So if one person out of this number comes to tell you that he has issues you will know that it might be from your own system, the ATM, the bank or the provider or if you are using the third party system, the travel agents. We cannot say that there is zero tolerance; it will never happen. So there are so many areas the problem can come from. But the fact remains that it is there, it is available and that it is working.
Low turnout of passengers after Dana Air crash
In reality, amount of people who travel by air has definitely dropped and it has dropped by estimated 30 per cent. It is coming back gradually but it is no way where it should be. People say it is just a few airlines flying, so it should be nice and easy, which is not the case. The fact remains that the market has dropped and there are issues there. What we see is the saying that time heals; we do hope that it will come back gradually. Hopefully things will be brighter in future.
What government should do to boost domestic air transport
Every day that goes by people come out with their own solution on how the problem can be solved in the media. One is that infrastructure needs to be rehabilitated and upgraded; two, financing needs to be sorted out; three, cost of airline operation. If the infrastructure is in place, we are happy; if we are able to access financing at a reasonable rate we shall be happy; if the cost from government’s point of view will be reduced to a reasonable level, fine, then it will now be left to us to ensure that our business model operates within these parameters without making things more complicated.
Doubts on requisite experience of expatriate pilots and engineers
We have a process for employing skilled personnel, either pilots or engineers or cabin crew and everybody has to pass the bar. So it is not a matter of saying they are expatriates or Nigerians. The truth is that we have minimum standard that everybody should meet. Whether you are expatriate or Nigerian if you don’t meet it you go. It is not just from the technical point of view but also from the attitude point of view. You might meet the standard from the technical point of view but if you don’t meet it from the attitude point of view, you go. I remember an expatriate we employed when I was still a copilot who lasted on 24 hours in the country. The deputy managing director then insisted that this one would not last in Nigeria and insisted he must go and bought him a ticket and shipped him out.
We do not waste time with our people. If you are not suitable you leave. For us it is not whether they are expatriates or Nigerians or they are from the ECOWAS region or not. The question is that we need technical people and we look for where we can get them as long as they meet the requirements. As at today six per cent of our workforce is expatriates but like I told you before, that percentage is going to increase, not just relative to Aero Contractors but across the board in the aviation industry because the number of Nigerians in the business is not much. A lot of people coming in now are inexperienced.
You hear a lot of people say, why don’t you employ Nigerians but the question is, what experience do these Nigerians have? So, just as we pick up non experienced Nigerians and try to train them, we must balance them to make sure we do have experienced people also working in the company. There is no way we can put inexperienced pilots and engineers at work without their being monitored by experienced people. We have Nigerians who have worked in this company for 35 years; we also have expatriates who have also worked in this company for 35 years. The oldest we have now is 32 years. To me, they are Nigerians.
There is also a gap in the industry because we have a lot of elderly Nigerians who are retiring but if you look at the population of Nigeria in terms of experience in the 35 to 45 years bracket it is very low, relatively speaking. So as an industry we see a shift where we try to cover that gap; as more Nigerians retire we bring in expatriates to cover that gap. But to say that those who are good don’t want to come here…it is not everybody that wants to come to Nigeria, whether they are good or not, but those that want to come it is for you to get the best and be able to pay him. If you want the best you should be able to attract the best.
Artificial pricing of aviation fuel and alleged conspiracy by marketers
We have heard this story severally. Is it a cabal you want to use? I don’t know because we are not in that business. Yes, the product is too expensive and we will like to have more suppliers in the market. We definitely know that the prices are too high and can come down. We actually saw a slight shift last week when it was reduced by just over a Naira. We definitely believe that there is still room for about N12.00 to come down. We can also see that whenever there is enough fuel in the market as in the law of demand and supply, the price will drop. But immediately there is issue with supply the price will go up. There is possible lack of planning which causes hiccups in the supply because everybody knows what we need on daily basis. It doesn’t fluctuate that much.
If they import ship load every week that is ok, but why is it that we import four ship loads and they stop. We put this question to them but some of their response is that the money they get from the Federal Government in relation to the subsidy is that if that money is not paid they are not able to import but when the money comes in they will import all the fuel at the same time and swamp the whole place with fuel and wait for another payment. Aviation fuel is not subsidized but the whole products are imported together. The process of getting the product to the country goes through a lot of delays which also adds to the cost and this is another area that government needs to streamline.
Limiting of passenger facilitation by poor infrastructure
When you talk of infrastructure you are also talking about security. And we know that first flight out of any state is about 6.00 o’clock in the morning. If you cannot start working earlier than that obviously that is a limitation. You also know that 80 per cent of the airports in the country close by 6.00 O’clock in the evening; this is either that there is no infrastructure or there is no business and they will say by 6.00 o’clock we should close. The other airports that open for 24 hours the next question is who wants to keep traveling through the night? But if you are in America you will have these flights they call the red eye where the flights start about 12 midnight or 2.00 am and they keep flying till 5.00 am, but in Nigeria we don’t have that opportunity.
So basically, in reality we are working from 6.00 to 6.00. Now, everybody knows that for aviation to make money the aircraft has to be in the air. So if you know you can only work for 12 or 14 hours a day, which means that you are squeezing me, the money I should make in 24 hours you want me to squeeze it into 14 hours? Invariably that means that ticket prices have to go up. If an opportunity was there for us to fly in the night, you will be making life easier for us in terms of making money.
Nigerian airlines losing dominance of West African sub region to other airlines
West coast is not as lucrative as everybody says it is. If you go back to history, you know Nigeria Airways flew the West Coast and. We had Air Afrique and they flew the West Coast and covered all the countries of the West Coast; again we ask where is Air Afrique? You go down to the West Coast and ask, where the airlines that operate the West Coast are, yet everybody is talking about the West Coast. Airlines like Ghana Airways, Air Afrique and Air Ivory Coast all had government backing, but they all failed.
Have you asked yourself what the tax is when operating the West Coast? Out of Accra, Gahana alone, the tax is $50 per passenger. You can say that the airlines were earning their revenue in dollars but you have to ask how much they spend. What they were charging in those days were more than what Nigerian airlines are charging today. The question is why did they fail if it was so good? It is known that the margin of profit in this aviation industry is not much…you are talking of two to four per cent; that is where we are. And that percentage is something that can be wiped out quite easily.
Why price of tickets are going up
It has gone up because the taxes have also gone up. NCAA’s (Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority) five per cent on ticket sales has been extended to fuel surcharge, which was not there before. So if you are clamouring for the taxes to go down and they are increasing it, so instead of getting better the situation is getting worse. And we continue to clamour that it should be changed.
Effect of multidesignation on domestic airline operations
Definitely, it is affecting domestic operations. Our business is moving people from point A to point B around this country. There is large market of people that need to move around the country and there is large number of people that need to go out of the country. Now, if you allow all the foreign carriers to go into all the airports, then what is our own business? I will ask you, which Nigerian carrier is flying multiple designation in Europe? In England there are only two airports that I am aware of: London Gatwick and London Heathrow where Nigerian airlines fly to. That is it, but all the European carriers that operate in Nigeria fly into Kano, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Lagos and they are still clamouring for more.
So the question is the reciprocity there? Even if we are not going into UK, into France, Germany and all that, there should be a limit to what is given to them. There is need to leave some of these airports to Nigerian carriers