Govt’s Inactivity in Aviation

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The aviation industry is described by stakeholders as a sector that is literally in coma as nothing seems to be happening in terms of government input; besides the activities of aviation agencies.

Few months ago, the federal government spoke about its plans to concession airport facilities. That announcement alone ignited a flurry of activities but ever since after the pronouncement, there is nothing on ground to suggest that the government is committed to the project.

THISDAY however learnt that the proposed concession of the airport might be a long-term plan without the urgency industry observers are attributing to it because there is no immediate plan either in the Ministry of Transportation or in the agencies that indicates an on-going process to actualise that promise.

Meanwhile, industry observers reason that the government’s plan to concession the airport facilities is a good development, only if it would be actualised.

Industry operators however said that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is a behemoth, which is overwhelmed by the challenge of running modern airport facilities. In fact, a top airline official said FAAN should be regionalised as it is done in many parts of the world and the airports should be segmented according to regions or geo-political zones.

FAAN, the official, added, should be devolved from one body, sitting at one place and managing 22 airports; rather, it should be put into regions because as it is now, it cannot effectively manage these airports.

“So there could be groupings like airports being under the northern region and this will include the airports in Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa, Kebbi and Gombe; then each group should be put under FAAN that would be managing that region. Every region ought to have FAAN or equivalent of such organisation managing the airports.
“Also, I support concession but that should be the concession of airport terminals only, the runway and other infrastructure like landing aids, communication system should not be concession for strategic reason, including security,” the official said.

But these conjectures have no effect as industry observers argue that the industry is yet to feel the input of government.

“You could notice the decay of the agencies. There is so much uncertainty. The rumour that the head of the parastatals would be changed has been there for months and what do you think will be the disposition of those agency heads who feel that they would grab their jobs very soon? There is lack of leadership in the industry. Everything is clouded in uncertainty. Now, look at the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) which management was about four months ago disrupted on allegation of fraud. The person that replaced the managing director has been on acting capacity since then. Why not confirm him or is it the wish of government to bring an outside? On acting capacity, the managing director may not be able to take critical decisions, so the government should be seen to be doing things in the industry. Right now, nothing is happening”, said a source familiar with airport activities.

THISDAY also learnt that the present administration is determined to realise the national carrier project though there is still no indication that it has not kick started the process. For those who support the project, government should push for the national airline so that it will over time moderate the high and exploitative fares charges by foreign airlines. However, those who are opposed to the project insist it would be difficult for government to establish and successfully manage an airline.

President of Aviation Round Table (ART), Gbenga Olowo, reacting to the planned national carrier said: “Which way Nigeria is heading to? Certainly government does not have such funds to float a new airline given our economic status.
“However, we need to clearly understand if Nigeria is privatising or revisiting public enterprise. Public enterprises have failed the nation over the years- Nitel, Nipost, Nigeria Airways, electricity companies, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), etc.
Historical evidence also has it that the failure of these public enterprises is traceable to its owner (the government and its agencies.)

“Arguments for wanting to again tow a failed route remain very unclear. Cloud surrounding the much touted national carrier by the government given its poor economic wealth require further explanation on ownership and or role of government in initiating the airline for the country.
It is hoped that this will not be hatched in secrecy and fashioned to the detriment of existing flag carriers which have been holding forth,” Olowo said.

Industry observers also pointed out that there is nothing like the agenda of government in the industry. According to them, besides the four airport terminals being built with loans obtained from the Chinese government, no other project is ongoing in the industry and there is no discernible programme “to signature the presence of this administration, so what we can say is that the old system is still running.”

FAAN few months ago disclosed that it was concentrating on developing the airside of the airport, which meant that it would provide airfield lighting to the runways that presently do not have it and rehabilitate the worn out and broken runways. The Minister of State for Aviation is expected to kick off the projects but there is nothing to show that such projects are ongoing.