In the last two weeks, two good things have happened to Nigeria’s aviation sector. The country scaled the huddle of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP).
The first time Nigeria met the conditions and passed the audit was in 2006. That was the same year the country passed the Nigeria Civil Aviation Act into law, which made the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) autonomous.
According to industry analysts, by passing the audit, Nigeria has shown consistency in maintaining and sustaining the ICAO safety standard and so much positive things have happened in the industry between 2006 and 2016. The analysts said it showed that the first time the country passed the audit was not a fluke and the country had maintained that consistency in sustaining and improving the expected safety standard for safe airline operation.
Another good thing that happened in the aviation industry in the last two weeks was the visit of the President of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the world-revered body.
In late 2013, Dr Olumuyiwa Bernard Aliu was elected President of the ICAO and since January 2014, the Nigerian citizen has been serving the international organisation. He is the first African to be in that position and feelers indicate that he has distinguished himself in his job.
The ICAO President, prior to his election on the November 18, 2013, served for eight years as the ICAO Council’s Nigerian Representative. He was the pioneer Director of Air Transport Regulation (DATR) at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) from 2000 – 2004.
Before the ICAO Audit, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had renewed Nigeria’s Category 1 Safety Status, which showed that despite imperfections, the country had maintained high safety standard that meets the expectation of FAA. The Category 1 Safety Status was what opened the door for Nigerian carriers to fly to the US and for US airlines to also fly to Nigeria.
Also, few weeks ago, Transport Security Administration (TSA) of the US visited Nigeria and assessed the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and after the assessment exercise, it gave the airport a pass mark and also commended Nigeria and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) for improving the security at the nation’s airports.
It could be said that the year 2006 was a turning point for Nigeria’s aviation industry. It was the year of NCAA autonomy and after that Nigeria became signatory to the Cape Town Convention and since then the country has been making its presence felt in the global aviation industry.
Industry observers say that besides the fact that in the last few years Nigeria arguably has the second highest number of private jets in Africa, Bombardier’s first port of call in the continent became Nigeria before South Africa and Angola. Bombardier is the manufacturer of prime private jets in addition to single isle commercial airliners. Although that market has dwindled due to the low turn of the nation’s economy but the potential is still very high as the country is projected to become the largest market in Africa with its huge population made up of largely young people.
The ice on the cake about the prominence of Nigeria in the global aviation industry is the election of Aliu as the President of ICAO Council.
Industry analysts also said while it is important to recognise these positive developments, it must be noted that considering its potential, Nigeria still lags behind. Nigeria, they observed, has not been able to earn huge revenue from the aviation sector, considering the high population of air travellers; there is not much to cheer about Nigerian airlines, many of which are not doing well and Nigeria is yet to take advantage of its location in Africa and in the world to become a hub for West Africa.
There are two issues that are retarding Nigeria’s development in aviation: The country does not have Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility. The country’s skilled manpower in the sector is diminishing and there is no defined programme supported by government for manpower development.
Aliu is aware of this. In one of his meetings during his visit he said he was working very closely with the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology Zaria (NCAT) to transform the college to a regional training centre of excellence as means of capacity building.
This is very important because Nigeria ought to train pilots, engineers and others that should do the work for the airlines and the aviation agencies. Today majority of the pilots and engineers are expatriates. With the dwindling value of the Naira, airlines are finding it difficult to pay these expatriates in foreign currency. In fact, THISDAY learnt that some airlines are renegotiating with their expatriate staff on currency of payment modalities in the face of biting economy. But this situation would not arise if majority of the technical manpower in the sector are Nigerians.
Aliu however commended the level of infrastructural development and implementation in the industry, which he described as encouraging. However, industry stakeholders are of the view that Nigeria would take advantage of the ICAO President’s position to attract investors that could partner with the Nigerian government and the airlines to build MRO facility for the country.
Former Director General of NCAA, Dr Harold Demuren would always say that it is the way to go. He believes that without MRO Nigeria’s aviation growth and development would be retarded.
Aliu also said his goal for Nigeria is for the country to become a hub for West and Central Africa and with the development of NCAT as manpower development centre for Africa, Nigeria will actualise its dream of becoming a major air transport centre in the world.