As the largest African nation with high passenger traffic, Nigeria is expected to play leading role in air transport in the continent. Chinedu Eze writes that 56 years after the country’s independence, smaller countries lead aviation development in the region.
Aviators, airport users and air travellers do not have much to cheer about Nigeria’s aviation industry. They unanimously agree that the industry is underdeveloped, considering the country’s enormous potential and endless opportunities at her behest.
Industry observers aver that Nigeria as the most populous country in Africa has the largest population of indigenous travellers in the continent and what is peculiar about Nigerians is that they like to travel. So the country is a huge market in the region, but over the years the country has failed to grab the opportunities available to it due to what many in the sector referred to as bad and conflicting policies, lack of political will and self-serving interests of those who have held critical and senior positions in the sector.
Nothing to Cheer
The Chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Captain Nogie Meggison said that bad policies and failure to effectively implement the good ones has been the bane to the growth of the industry.
In my 23 or 24 years in the Nigerian aviation sector, it has had 28 ministers. In an organisation that has had 28 ministers within that period; we don’t need a rocket scientist to know that there will be a lot of confusion there,” Meggison said.
Some of the stakeholders said when a Nigerian versed in the aviation industry looks at the sector, as it is today he would be overwhelmed by regret and pain. Regret that the right things that ought to be done were not done; that there were opportunities, which apparently stared the country in the face yet were missed.
“He will feel the pain. He will feel the pain that in the comity of nations despite our huge potential and highly talented citizens, we lag behind because critical decisions that ought to be taken to spur the industry, was not taken.
“The aviation industry presently is in a sorry state. There is no airline operating in the country that records profit in its balance sheet. For them, it is a struggle from year to year, with just 10 years average life span staring them in the face. Government is not benefitting from the industry in terms of its contribution to the GDP because we are yet to harness the opportunities the industry should offer if well positioned to do so,” said a senior official of one of the indigenous airlines.
The Chairman of Aviation Round Table (ART), GbengaOlowo told THISDAY that there are many things that are wrong in the aviation industry.
“The aviation industry in Nigeria, to say the least, is still at infancy. This is a shame because we do not really know what we want to do with the aviation industry. Our decisions are haphazard, so we need concise, coordinated decision. I look at aviation in the next 50 to 100 years in Nigeria. What we are doing now is haphazard. We have about three generations of airlines that have come and gone. Life span of Nigerian airlines is 10 years and the present once are at the level of extinction, so we need to get serious,” Olowo said.
In terms airport facilities, Nigeria has made a mark in infrastructural development of the aviation sector. The total number of airports in the country is about 26 while 22 is owned by the federal government and managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). Nigeria also has over 30 airstrips, which means that the country has highly development air transport network. But the challenge there is that there is no consistent policy on airport development and maintenance.
The consequence is that the airports lack some of basic equipment and facilities which include landing aids, airfield lighting, perimeter fencing, adequate fire cover, screening machines, CCTV and even passenger facilitation equipment like flight information display system and seats for departing passengers.
THISDAY investigations have revealed that only eight out of 22 airports managed by FAAN have airfield lighting and out of that number only five airports have efficient and well-lit airfield lighting which include Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Katsina. Without airfield lighting, airplanes cannot land in an airport in the night. So a plane under distress has very few airports to land in Nigeria at night.
Many Nigerian airports do not have security and perimeter fencing. Many that have security fencing have holes dug at various sections of the fence by the host community and possibly miscreants; thereby creating opportunity for security breach. A good example is the stowaway effort of a teenager who had access to the airside at the Benin airport and entered the wheel-well of Arik Air aircraft and the pilot, not knowing, brought him to Lagos from Benin.
Screening machines have been acquired and placed at strategic places at the airports but these are not enough but what is important is that presently the number of aviation security personnel is grossly inadequate. Many of the screening machines are underutilised because there is no personnel to man them. At all the international airports, there is no good demarcation between arriving passengers and departing ones, except at the MallamAminu Kano International Airport, Kano due to the fact that terminal capacity at the airports presently is inadequate.
Airport premises are not well lighted in the night and this may cause security breach and could lead to insecurity at the airports. Some of the airports do not have effective secondary power supply so they remain in darkness when there is power outage from public power supply. Many of the airports do not have comprehensive close-circuit television (CCTV), so movement at various areas of the airport is not adequately monitored.
Also there are inadequate operational fire vehicles and other materials needed for effective fire cover of different grades of airports in Nigeria. The personnel is inadequate and they do not go for currency training because the country do not have training facility for them and the number of fire fighter personnel needs to be increased. Fire fighting vehicles are ill equipped and some of them are old, while the ones acquired recently are not updated with new equipment.
THISDAY learnt that some major airports and the secondary airports do not have effective carousel. The terminals in these airports need to be expanded. Although new terminals are being built at the Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Enugu airports but observers say that the country would soon build new airport terminals in these two major cities, except Enugu because in about 10 years’ time the terminals under construction now will become inadequate. There is inadequate cooling system at most of the airport terminals.
Aviation manpower development in Nigeria ended with the demise of Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), which was liquidated in 2004. Since its demise airlines still operating in the country relied heavily on the Nigeria Airways workforce. But many of them had become old and many of them had become professionally obsolete so Nigerian airlines currently depend on expatriates for most of their pilots and engineers. They pay highly for this because the remunerations of these expatriates are more than double what they pay their Nigerian counterparts and they only get half of the service Nigerians offer to these airlines.
This is because if the expatriates spend six months working in Nigeria, they spend another six months holidaying in their countries or any country of their choice and the airlines pay them. It has also been established that most of the expatriates that come to work in Nigeria are those who may not get the same kind of job in their countries in Europe and Americas. Many of them come to work in Nigeria to mark up their flight hours, as the United States had introduced stringent measures on pilot that operate airliners. So Nigeria airlines are not getting the best from the foreign pilots and engineers; rather, they are losing so much and Nigeria is also losing so much on capital flight as these foreign personnel are paid in foreign exchange, which they largely repatriate.
Currently Nigerian airlines are not training much. They do not have the funds to do that and even when they train, the pilots move to greener pastures in Middle East. Some of the airlines bond the pilots while training them but there is no rule that bars them from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) when they insist on moving. This is because the airline has limited right to stop the pilot from moving despite the bonding. An airline cannot allow a disgruntled and ill-motivated pilot to continue to operate its aircraft. The consequence can better be imagined, so when they insist, the airlines won’t have any choice than to let them go. There is a lot of poaching that goes on in the industry, which causes tension among the airlines.
Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria still trains pilots, engineers and other technical personnel for the aviation industry but the pilot trained who come out with Private Pilot Licence will need more exposure to flying to get type rated. Most often they don’t get that exposure from Nigerian airlines which goes for ready-made expatriates.
So in terms of manpower development, the industry is in turmoil. The indigenous technical personnel in the aviation industry depletes everyday as the old Nigeria Airways workers get old, retire and die, leaving vacuums that are filled by expatriates. So it is Nigeria that is losing in this matter. The Nigerian aviation industry is currently in its lowest ebb; unless urgent actions are taken to go back to training indigenes and expose them to flight experience; otherwise in the next 10 years the country can only boast of handful of her citizens that can pilot a plane.
As a way to overcome the myriads of problems in the aviation industry, the federal government has recently concluded plans to concession some of the airports. The Minister of State, Aviation, SenatorHadiSirika said government would concession the airports because of its lean resources, which cannot be expended on airport development. The Minister said to free government from this responsibility, it is encouraging the private sector to invest in the industry. But government is yet to give details about the concession programme.
Many in the industry are of the view that government should show greater commitment in aviation development, implement policies that would encourage private sector participation and cede some of its responsibilities to the private sector.
But so far nothing much is being done to rekindle the hopes of Nigerian in air transport sector 56 years after the nation’s independence.