Operational Environment, Inconsistent Policies Kill Nigerian Airlines, Says Babalakin

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Chinedu Eze

The Chairman of Resort Group, the operator of the Murtala Muhammed Airport domestic terminal, known as MMA2, Wale Babalakin, has traced the short lifespan of Nigerian airlines to harsh operational environment and inconsistent policies of government, which he said also affect other sectors of the nation’s economy.

About 150 airlines have gone under since the early 1980s since the federal government deregulated the aviation industry and private investors started airline operation, pioneered by Okada Air and others.

Babalakin, who spoke during the quarterly Aviation Round Table, (ART) in Lagos yesterday, said the failure of government to abide by its agreements and the inability of its officials to follow through lofty policies had been the bane of economic development in Nigeria.

“Aviation can be a catalyst for economic growth but I am concerned about whether we are keen to see this happen. I am concerned whether we have the skills to achieve it. I have seen so many airlines come and go and I have researched thoroughly the reasons why these airlines collapse. There have been so many promises made by succeeding Ministers of Aviation on the revamping of airport infrastructure but none came to pass.

“They promised maintenance hangar and other infrastructure but what we have is the carcass. There is nothing in the aircraft that is made in Nigeria; even the fuel we have in abundance is imported. This is the product of melancholic decadence of great intellect. This is the product of mediocre who does not have the intellect to know whether you are wrong or right,” Babalakin said.

The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, at the forum, identified resistance by key participants in the aviation sector as one of the banes of development of the sector.

Mohammed said any minister who wants to make any radical change must wrestle himself from the shackles of such resistance to drive policies that would stimulate growth.

He said rather than lament over challenges in the sector, players should come together to seek solutions, adding that there is a need for government and its agencies to abide by the agreements they made, noting that without abiding by such agreement both local and foreign investors would be discouraged, adding that there should be legal framework for turning around the sector as it affects concession agreements.

This, he said, could be achieved if there were focused agenda that would deliver a solid foundation for aviation growth.

Also speaking at the event, the Chairman of Air Peace Airline, Chief Allen Onyema, said the major reasons why airlines die in Nigeria was because of harsh operating environment and multiple charges.

Onyema explained that in countries with friendly operating environment, airlines make up to three to five per cent profits but in a country like Nigeria, airlines can only talk about how best to cut their losses.

“I do not believe that the 150 airlines that have gone under in Nigeria went under because there was something fundamentally wrong with the airplanes. It is largely due to the operational environment. The operators may have their own problems but the major factor is government policies and the operational environment. Airlines have continued to struggle with poor airport infrastructures, poor manpower, high insurance premium amongst others. Until these legislative challenges are addressed, more airlines will die in Nigeria,” Onyema said.

President of ART, Gabriel Olowo, said only 44 aircraft owned by eight airlines are operating in Nigeria and suggested that these could be put together under one airline and it would become a very strong, viable airline.