Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah
High price of aviation fuel, high charges and taxes are some of the problems of Nigerian airline operators but the most critical which can lead to the demise of the sector or its takeover by foreigners is lack of indigenous manpower.
The problem of inadequate manpower is so critical that it is predicted that if there is no urgent programme to train Nigerians in the technical areas of the industry in the next five years expatriates would become the only personnel in the engineering and flight operations of every airline in the country.
The Managing Director of Bristow Helicopters, Segun Oni raised the alarm recently and said the airlines did not have any other choice than to employ foreigners because there was dearth of indigenous young aviators that could take up the jobs that are given to the foreigners.
Oni said that the situation was dire noting that the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology(NCAT), Zaria and that of Ilorin were grossly inadequate.
“We are almost in a crisis situation. Training will remain a challenge until we build the organisations that will do it. How many people can you train in Zaria? And how many people can you train in the school in Ilorin and the school in Ilorin is struggling already. Where else can you take them to in Nigeria? The Nigeria Air Force used to train people and put them out, but they are now struggling.”
Industry operators said the only way to overcome this major challenge was for government to take urgent step towards building more training schools or encourage the private sector to do so and every tier of government should also establish a training programme whereby they sponsor their bright youths to aviation schools both in Nigeria and abroad.
Oni reiterated: “The manpower challenge is a crisis waiting to happen. The former AIB (Accident Investigation Bureau) Commissioner, Sam Oduselu, that drew attention to it in a conference last year. At the end, we produced white papers but somebody had dumped the white paper already.”
The Bristow Helicopter boss said the schools at Zaria and Ilorin could not train the high number of pilots and engineers Nigeria needs pointing out, that is why many Nigerians have to travel out of the country to train as pilots.
“Any other person who wants to train has to go to South Africa; if they can get visa they go to America; if they can get visa they go to UK and that is very limited these days. These days the East African airlines are doing better: Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines are beginning to have their schools, why can’t we do the same?
So if you depend on Zaria to produce the manpower that we need in Nigeria with the limited resources that they have there, we get a long way to go. Manpower is train wreck that is coming. With all the money we spend on our training today we cannot meet our requirement to run the business on day to day basis. As long as that gap in manpower is there, you have to bring foreigners in.”