It has become very clear that there is need to establish Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility in West Africa to service aircraft operating in the West Coats and central Africa. Already, some organisations have indicated their interest in the huge project.

THISDAY investigations have reveal that this is an offshoot of competition and the strive for dominance by airlines who see the veritable Nigerian market which has exponential possibilities to grow by projected 15 percent from the next couple of years, as huge attraction.

By building ultra-modern MRO facility somewhere in West Africa, obviously Nigerian airlines would prefer it to ferrying their aircraft to Europe and the US, which cost them more money. Unfortunately, the airlines and organisations that have indicated interest to build MRO in the sub-region wish to locate the facility anywhere besides Nigeria, except Arik Air.

Reports indicate that Asky Airlines based in Lomé, Togo and shareholder, Ethiopian Airlines are planning to establish an aircraft MRO and training centre in Lome.

The report quoted the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, Tewolde Gebremariam who explained that Asky was in discussions with the Togolese government and that if approved, the MRO facility would service Boeing and Bombardier aircraft. The training facility would train back-office staff and cabin crew.

“Our main MRO hub remains in Addis Ababa and (we) will have regional MRO hubs in Lomé, Lilongwe and Kigali (home to partner RwandAir). Our planned Lomé MRO hub would maintain aircraft operating in Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.”

According to reports, last week, a deputy director, press and public affairs, Ministry of Transportation, James Odaudu, was quoted to have said that International Airline Group (IAG) plans to establish MRO facility in Abuja. The report noted that was because IAG saw potential in the following factors: the huge traffic in and out of the Nigeria, the need to reduce the cost of maintaining aircraft abroad and the chance of attracting work from neighboring countries. In addition, IAG intends to start a Nigerian aviation academy that would be affiliated to a UK-based university.

THISDAY investigations revealed that IAG is yet to make a firm commitment on the project. However, Nigeria’s major airline Arik Air actually planned to establish maintenance facility at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos four years ago. The airline obtained a piece of land from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) but later the agency halved the land and gave one half to another concessionaire. The other half was not enough to build such facility, which is meant to house three Boeing B777 in its hangar at the same time and could take in two Airbus A380. The space that was earlier given to Arik Air was ideal because it was located between the two runways in Lagos. But with the reduction of the land space, the venture was killed.

Informed source told THISDAY that Ghana, which is striving to be the operational airline hub in West Africa, is trying to persuade Arik Air that planned to partner with Lufthansa Technik, to come over to Accra and build the facility.

When the project was initiated in 2012, THISDAY spoke with the Chief Commercial Officer of Lufthansa, Alfred Nessel, who said that his company was poised to establish the facility in Nigeria in partnership with Arik, adding that the country needed MRO 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. That was before half of the land given to Arik Air was taken away by FAAN.

Ghana is also wooing other companies to come over to Accra and build the facility. There are African and international carriers that are considering the juicy incentives being given by Ghana. THISDAY learnt that Arik Air and Ghana have held series of meetings on the plan, but the airline would prefer to locate the facility in Lagos; although Lufthansa and other international financiers would prefer that the facility be built in Ghana because it is believed that Ghana is politically stable and its ease of doing business is high and Ghanaian government is willing to give many incentives, including the recent reduction of fuel by 20 percent.

There is clear indication that all the companies that intend to build MRO facility in West Africa are targeting the Nigerian market but due to lack of incentives by the Nigerian government and harsh operational environment, where, for example, oil marketers could sell aviation fuel at arbitrarily high prices without control and the aviation agencies charges are exorbitant, the firms now plan to have the facility close to Nigeria but enjoy the incentives offered by the other countries while serving airlines largely from Nigeria.

There are so many benefits in having the MRO facility located in Nigeria. The company will pay taxes to Nigeria, it will train Nigerians in aircraft maintenance and boost the country’s technical manpower and also create employment for Nigerians. The facility will be a Nigerian company and airlines that will patronise it from outside would pay charges and other expenses and bring foreign currency to Nigeria and it will enhance Nigeria to become a hub, which its location in Africa, passenger traffic and overall large market make it a given.

Nigeria would safe huge forex when airlines maintain their aircraft in a facility located in Nigeria. It is therefore the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that MRO facility is located in Nigeria. Any of the domestic carriers should be given the desired incentive to build the facility in Nigeria, despite the fact that the airline could source funds easily from international financiers if it decides to locate the facility in Ghana.