Arik Air, in partnership with Lufthansa Technik plans to build a state-of-the-art maintenance, repair and overhaul facility, which is expected to elevate air transport in Nigeria. Chinedu Eze reports
One of the major challenges of Nigerian airlines is the maintenance of their aircraft, which besides the cost of fuel takes a large chunk of their revenue.
It is highly costly for domestic carriers to maintain their fleet because of two factors: the major checks are done overseas and most of the time they would have to queue for weeks. Carrying out aircraft maintenance overseas adds extra cost to what it would be if the aircraft were maintained in Nigeria. The airline loses the services of an aircraft which queues for weeks in a hangar somewhere in Europe, US or Africa and also the accruing revenue it will generate.
Everyday a Boeing B737 aircraft operating in Nigeria generates average of N5 million at full capacity utilisation and sometimes an aircraft waiting for checks can park for weeks before it would be attended to. This is because Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities are usually busy all-year round.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr Harold Demuren, once lamented that Nigerian airlines paid so much for maintenance and aircraft parts because major maintenance is done overseas and paid for in dollars, while they generate their money in naira.
A C-Check maintenance could cost an airline $1 million (about N159 million) but it is believed that it would be cheaper if Nigeria has its own maintenance facility. It is also believed if there is an MRO in Nigeria; the country’s airlines will be spending less time at the facility before checks.
Again, having such a maintenance facility seemed to be a sine qua none to the development of air transport in any country and unfortunately there is no major MRO facility in West Africa.
Arik and Lufthansa
During the 5th anniversary of Arik Air, the Chairman of the airline, Joseph Arumemi-Ikhide, disclosed among other things that Arik would partner with a renowned aircraft maintenance company in the world, Lufthansa Technik to build MRO facility in Nigeria.
According to him, the construction would take off immediately the Federal Government gave a go-ahead for the facility to be built in the country.
Nature of Facility
Arumemi Ikhide said that the facility would be built to meet international standards, including that of the International Aviation Safety Assessment Program (IASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States.
The facility when completed will be one of Lufthansa’s major MRO located outside Hamburg, Germany, the headquarters of Lufthansa Technik and it is targeted to carry out overall maintenance of new generation aircraft; that is, modern aircraft.
“And the MRO we are setting up with Lufthansa is global. It is not strictly for Arik alone. I just want to make that one very clear. Lufthansa sent us to Malta; the base of Lufthansa is Hamburg, but they have this type of facility they want to build for us here in Malta; they have in Budapest; they have in Asia.
“What we made very clear to Lufthansa is that we want an MRO that will be global. Someone can come from Philippines, some can come from France, but one problem that we have, which I don’t know, except government takes a very strong step; we are looking for NGs- next generation aircraft. We are thinking about the A330s; we are not thinking about B737=200. We won’t maintain all that, but we may maintain B737=400,” said the Chairman of Arik Air.
He also said that the establishment of the facility was largely dependent on the support of government and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), adding that Lufthansa gave conditions that must be met by the Federal Government before the facility would be established.
“Lufthansa set some conditions, which they feel the government must abide by. We have to work with NCAA and they have to keep it to IASA standards and FAA standards. So it is going to benefit the whole country. Arik itself will be a customer of that MRO so there is going to be a difference between Arik airline and the MRO.”
On the timeline for the project, Arumemi Ikhide projected that it could be established from next year if all the conditions given by Lufthansa were met and the European company was also hopeful that the building of the facility could start as quickly as possible.
“So as soon as they get back to Germany and we are able to get NCAA’s nod, what we are going to do is that we are going to raise a new company and then that company will be the MRO. I think it is a plus for Nigerian aviation. Planes from France can come here. It will be manned by Lufthansa; everything will be done by their standards. And then of course they are going to train Nigerians. There are international standards for all these things. I think we and NCAA will have to work hand in hand. We need government input and government approvals for it. It is better for all of us to key to it and educate the public. The MRO is a very important thing to our heart.”
The Director of Airworthiness and Standards, NCAA, Emmanuel Usifo, said the agency would give full support to the project and ensure that there would be no hitches of the side of the regulatory body in actualising the project.
“We will work with them all the way, and that’s what we are going to do and I can tell you that the interest is in it. We are glad that Lufthansa is here; we know Lufthansa’s high standards and that is known worldwide. And we are happy that they are going to partner with Nigeria; partner with Arik. We are really, really happy about it so we will work with you all the way.”
The Special Adviser (Media) to the Minister of Aviation, Joe Obi, told THISDAY that although the ministry would not comment on the condition, which Lufthansa had given before it would establish the facility in partnership with Arik, but that the Federal Government was fully in support of the establishment of such facility by the private sector.
“I don’t think that government will stand in the way, if Arik wants to build such a facility. Government will support and encourage it. Until we know what the conditions given by Lufthansa is, we cannot comment on that, but government will fully support the project,” Obi said.
NCAA Director-General, Demuren once noted that that it would be a long-term programme for the establishment of MRO and training of engineers that would man it but the earlier Nigeria started the better. He also spoke about government’s support for such projects and recalled how American government supports establishment of MRO facilities.
“In America it is different. If you want to build maintenance facility you don’t pay for the land. In fact the US government will put money into it. This is because it is going to provide jobs. It is going to improve safety and another important thing, you cannot take it out of the country. The US government built a lot of maintenance facilities so that they can promote safety and provide job and create wealth.”
The Chief Commercial Officer of Lufthansa, Alfred Nessel, told THISDAY that his company was poised to establish the facility in Nigeria, adding that the country needed MRO facility to enhance and develop the aviation sector.
He also said that Lufthansa would embark on training Nigerians who would man the facility, noting that it would take about three years for the indigenes to acquire necessary certification to be fully involved in the maintenance and overhaul services.
The training of Nigerians is crucial for the technical advancement of the country in aircraft maintenance and Lufthansa has assured that it would train young Nigerians. Recently, the Managing Director of Bristow Helicopter, Mr. Akin Oni, argued that maintaining aircraft in a Nigerian MRO facility would be as costly as maintaining it overseas if it would be expatriates that would be deployed to the Nigerian facility.
Also, in an interview with THISDAY, the international aviation personality and expert, Nick Fadugba, said it was high time an MRO facility was built in the country and pointed out the gains.
“First, let me say that West Africa is the only region in the continent without a world-class maintenance facility. North Africa has it; East Africa has it; Southern Africa has it, but West Africa and in particular Nigeria, we lack a vibrant MRO facility”.
Fadugba noted that establishing a modern MRO facility is cost intensive and spoke on how to make such facility profitable.
“What happens is that before you build MRO facility, you already get airlines committed to bringing their aircraft. So companies that build MRO facilities normally enter into commercial agreement with airlines before they start building the facility. That is, if I am going to invest X amount of dollars into building this facility, I need to be guaranteed by these airlines that the fleet they have will have to come through my MRO facility.
You cannot just build MRO facility and then wait for customers to show up. It doesn’t work like that in this day and age. So for a successful MRO facility, it is a partnership between the numerous service providers and, not only one airline but several airlines.”
The MRO facility when completed would elevate the image of Nigeria and also improve its reckoning in the aviation world; it would also improve the safety of aircraft that operate in the country.