Glimmer of Hope for Aviation

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Chinedu Eze writes that although no meaningful development has taken place in the aviation sector in President MuhammaduBuhari’s first year in office, the federal government has laid out a blueprint on how to transform the sector

On December 23, 2015, the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, during their maiden conferenceat the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, unveiled their programmes for the transportation sector, specifically highlighting the various measures that would be put in place to transform the sector.

Amaechi emphatically stated that the government would ensure improvement on safety and more work would be done at the airside than the tendency to concentrate development on airport terminal facilities.

In the last year, it could be said that the aviation agencies have dovetailed their programmes with that of the Buhari mandate and during the period under review, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) completed some of its on-going projects together with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). Also, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) passed the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Audit and Nigeria renewed its Category One safety status with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAAN).

But Buhari’s plan for the aviation sector was recently encapsulated and unveiled by Sirika, who is an aviator and a seasoned pilot, at a recently held stakeholders meeting.

According to FAAN’s spokesman, Yakubu Dati, what was unveiled by the Minister was the blueprint of what the federal government has laid out plans to actualise in the industry.

“The Minister’s wealth of experience and vision come into play here. He wants to align the nation’s aviation industry with modern trends and new developments in the sector. As an insider I don’t think anyone is more qualified to be in driving seat to actualise these plans,” Dati said.

Sirika said the federal government has recognised that aviation is pivotal to growth of key economic sectors and certainly not limited to travel and tourism; so it contributes in the development of agriculture production and distribution, rural development, trade and commerce, manufacturing, oil and other non-oil sectors.

“It is that critical tool necessary for economic transformation of any nation. Indeed, the value chain creation by aviation is enormous,” the Minister, said.
He said that government also recognised that the Nigerian market is a market servicing a population of 600million people in West and Central Africa and that half of Africa, twice the US and far greater than continental Europe, so government wished to tap into this huge market, considering the fact that 10 percent of the population only, that is 60m passengers within the region could be a huge market for air transport and Nigeria having about 40 percent of the entire population is therefore a good market.

Buhari’s Plan for Aviation
Sirika said the present administration is focusing on issues that will rapidly develop the aviation sector within the shortest possible time and these issues include safety, security, infrastructure and others.

Safety and Security
According to the minister, the federal government has looked at the safety and security in aviation and the challenges and has decided that these are global safety and security challenges and therefore has responded with comprehensive security threat and vulnerability assessment, certification programme for airports. Besides, he saidthe government has developed a new security strategy in partnership with the international security organisation and plans to establish Nigeria Transport Security Administration that would be tailored like its counterpart in the US.

The Minister also said that this administration would undertake the procurement of modern, state of the art equipment and capacity development in its determination to ensure safety of air travelers.

Airport Concession
He also said the federal government has chosen to arrest the decay of airport infrastructure through the concession of its facilities. Sirika said among the greatest challenges in the sector are obsolete and dilapidated airport and airspace infrastructure and inadequate capacity, noting that the facilities do not meet the international standards and best practices.

Sirika said the government plans to concession the four major airports located in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano in the first phase. Besides concession, he said government would also carry out airport infrastructure upgrade, whichit has already started doing through FAAN. The government, he further stated, would complete the four new terminals, where work has reached advanced stage.

National Carrier
The federal government rekindled the hope of some Nigerians when Sirika announced that government was still interested in establishing a national carrier. He said one of the major reasons why government wished to establish a national carrier was to cut down the huge amount of capital flight that foreign airlines take out of the country.
The Minister also noted that there is absence of national and strong flag carrier and with a strong national carrier, Nigeria could maximise her Bilateral Air Services Agreement, Multilateral Air Services Agreement (MASA) and Open Skies advantages.

Sirika noted also that having a national carrier would boost Nigeria’s image in the comity of nations, adding, depending on the appropriate business model, it will help solve the inadequate capacity of airport and airspace infrastructure because a national carrier attracts government’s attention to providing the facilities and equipment that would enhance and facilitate the success of the airline.

So the federal government has decided to establish a national in order to gain optimal benefits from the BASA/MASA. In reaction to cynics and others who are pessimistic about having a national carrier because they believe that the Nigerian government cannot effectively and successfully run the business, the Minister said that the national carrier that would be whelped would be owned public. In other words, there would be institutional investors and public offering.

The airline would also form alliance or joint venture with other airlines to increase reach, connectivity and number of routes. Government is also thinking of engaging transaction adviser to develop appropriate business model and framework for establishing the national carrier, using Public, Private Partnership (PPP). Government would also provide the required infrastructure to support the expected growth of the airline.

Maintenance Facility
Ferrying aircraft overseas for maintenance costs huge amount of money and especially for a national carrier, which ought to have structure for ancillary airline services established; so the Minister said the government would establish a Maintenance, Overhaul and Repair (MRO) facility along with the establishment of a national carrier.

Sirika noted that the absence of a major maintenance facility in West Africa costs airlines much more money taking their aircraft overseas for repairs, so for a national carrier that wants to succeed, it must have its own maintenance facility. Chairman of RwandAir and former CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, Girma Wake once advised that there should be at least one major national carrier in West Africa for the maintenance of the fleet in that sub region.
The government is determined to create an enabling environment for the setting up of a world class MRO facility that would attract clientele from all over the world especially from Africa.
The Minister said the MRO would further be encouraged to start manufacturing of airplane parts, with intent to go into manufacturing for the long term like Ethiopia and Brazil.

Agro Allied Cargo Infrastructure
There is plan by the federal government to build cargo airports that would largely airlift farm produce from source to place of consumption and it will be easier and better to use air to move the farm produce from areas like Kebbi, Bauchi, even Benue and other places to huge markets in Kano, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu and others.

The Minister said presently, there is dearth of infrastructure, and existing cargo market is a billion of dollar market with Nigeria having insignificant share. As a result, government plans to build agro allied and cargo terminals with the objective a 40-percent market share, which means that 40 percent of farm produce would be airlifted. This, Sirika said has socio-economic impact, which would curb rural-urban migration, reduction in crime rate and massive rural development. Some of the produce would even be exported and they attract forex earnings. It would also increase employment and increase aviation activities.

Establishment of Aerospace University
The Minister said over the years there has been inadequate indigenous senior technical personnel in the aviation sector, which has prompted airlines to employ expatriates and pay outrageous remuneration to them; sometimes in hard currency and also reap half year service from them as most of them spend six months in Nigeria and spend another six months on holidays.
Sirika also noted that there is absence of research and development capabilities to evolve long term plans 
and strategic vision for the industry, so government would establishment of a university that would specifically produce the needed workforce for better efficiency 
in the sector. According to the minister, the item will require legislation and the government would provide the enabling environment.

Restructuring Aviation Agencies
Besides, the Minister noted that there is dearth of professionals
in the aviation industry with ageing workforce and unsustainable level of staffing. He said the Buhari’s administration would focus on capacity building, it would carry out staff verification/biometrics, of people, processes and technology; it would drive towards a leaner organisation for the agencies and make them to become self- accounting entities for efficiency. Government would also review the acts setting up the agencies to upscale governance and reduce 
overlaps in functions. Government said it would also establish an aviation leasing company to alleviate the problem of aircraft leasing and high insurance premium charges Nigerian airlines on aircraft leasing.

Sirika also saidgovernment will enforce expatriate quota system and policy review validation of Foreign License (no Aviator left behind policy) to ensure that indigenes, who are qualified for a job would get it; instead of losing such job to expatriates. The Minister also disclosed that the government plans to establish Aviation Development Bank for the Industry in order to provide long term, single digit loans to airlines to support growth and stability in the industry.