As Aero Contractors upgrades its hangar to carry out C-checks locally, Chinedu Eze writes on the impact on the domestic aviation industry
There are three critical things a country needs to have an operational hub: a major airline or airlines, easy access to aviation fuel, and a maintenance facility. All the countries in Africa that are major air transport destinations or the countries that play a major role in air transport in the continent have these requirements. They include South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, and Algeria.
One of the main setbacks in the development of air transport in Nigeria is the absence of major maintenance, repair and overhaul facility in the country, which forces domestic airlines to ferry their aircraft overseas to fix at twice the cost if it were done in Nigeria.
The airlines spend a lot of time on overseas checks and lose about N5 million a day for the weeks and, possibly, months the aircraft would be at the maintenance facilities abroad.
Before Aero’s upgrade of its maintenance status, Execujet has started carrying out C-checks on business jets, as the Managing Director of Quits Aviation, the operator of Execujet in Nigeria, Sam Iwuajoku told THISDAY that the facility, had carried out C-checks on business jets and the spokesman of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Sam Adurogboye said, “The facility has our approval to do major repairs. Be assured that the industry is well monitored to ensure the game is played according to the rules.”
Aero to the Rescue
But Aero Contractors, which is the oldest airline in Nigeria, is about to change the aviation industry’s story. For some years now, the airline has been carrying out aircraft maintenance in its facility located at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. It started with its rotary wing, the helicopter division, and graduated to carrying out the first major maintenance check, which is the C-check, on fixed wing aircraft, Bombardier Q300 and Q400.
Aero Contractors has now sought the approval of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to carry out C-check maintenance on Boeing B737, which is described as the workhorse of the Nigerian aviation sector because Boeing is the highest number of aircraft fleet in Nigeria. Aero said it would start the checks with Boeing classics, which include the Boeing B737-300, B737-400 and B737-500, in addition to Bombardier Dash 400.
On Thursday, NCAA visited the Aero facility to inspect it and renew its AMO certification, which would enable the airline to carry out the maintenance of its own aircraft and those of other airlines up to the level of C-checks. NCAA told THISDAY that Aero already had the regulatory body’s certification for the maintenance of smaller aircraft, including helicopters, and to carry out A and B checks on bigger aircraft. The civil aviation regulator says now that the airline wants to do major maintenance on bigger aircraft, NCAA would audit its facility, manpower and other requirements to ensure that what the airline is able to do meets international standards and practices. The inspection was done on Thursday.
THISDAY spoke with the CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, who gave details of the airline’s readiness to do C-checks on Boeing 737, saying it has 58 years aviation experience, which is what it would bring to bear on the new effort to carrying out C-check maintenance of Boeing 737 aircraft.
Sanusi said, “We have agreement with my management team on how to conduct C-checks in Nigeria. We are confident that this will be achieved within the next six weeks with our skills and manpower. We have sent manuals to NCAA for variation to conduct checks on Boeing 737 classics.”
He explained that the maintenance hangar the airline had now was being expanded to fully take in a B737 aircraft and a discussion was already on with a parts and tooling company to extend the hanger.
“We have signed Memorandum of Understanding with the company and we are talking with companies with established MRO, like South Africa Airways (SAA) Technical, to ensure that our maintenance meets international standards,” Sanusi said.
The head of AMO, who is also the base manager of Fixed Wing and leader of the team for C-check in Aero Contractors, James Ominyi, said local maintenance of aircraft up to the level of C-check would save Nigerian airlines huge amounts of money. He said there were many expenses associated with ferrying aircraft overseas for maintenance, including over flight permit, depending on which country the airline is going to.
Ominyi said, “You need to seek the over flight permit of the country. And then, depending on the distance you have to pay for fuel. But I know it will not be less than $50, 000. You also will have to pay for landing and fuelling, which is called technical stop. For example, if you are going to Shannon in Ireland, you will have to go through Spain, land, pay for landing, pay for all the handling charges and then fly from there to Shannon. But if you are doing it here, you save all that cost.”
Cost of C-Check
Ominyi explained that generally MROs could charge up to $600, 000 for C-check, depending on the scope of work. He noted, however, that the airline may end up paying up to a one million dollars or more because there could be findings that would be beyond what was captured in the agreement in the C-Check and then the airline would have to pay for them.
According to him, “When they open the engine and they open the side wall panels, they may see cracks that are beyond what is agreed on, which they have to rectify and this will be at extra cost. I have seen a C-Check that had cost up to a million pounds in UK. That is possible because the moment they open up the aircraft, they will see so many things that ought to be done that was not tracked before.”
Describing the raising of Aero’s maintenance level to C-check as variation, Ominyi stated, “We are bringing in variation. We want to add B737 C-check. We have been doing C-check on Bombardier, Q400, but we wish to start doing C-Check on B737.”
By carrying out C-checks in Nigeria, Aero would be saving Nigerian airlines millions of dollars every year and reduce pressure on the naira, as every cost outside fuelling and salaries is done in foreign exchange and that is dollars.
Ominyi explained, “I know that if you ferry your aircraft overseas for maintenance, a C-check facility can tell you they will finish in 19 days but this can extend to two or three months and your technical representative has to be there. You have to pay for his hotel and pay him his allowance and his transportation and all that. If as a company I am going to source for $500, 000 to pay for a C-check but now I don’t have to source for that $500, 000 for C-check, rather, I could come to Aero Contractors and do the checks and then pay them in naira. So all the hassles, applying through your bank and the foreign exchange process, is solved.
“Another thing is, if a C-check facility charges you $500, 000 and you end up paying one million dollars, that difference is mainly in man hours for extra findings, known as non-routine findings. So a C-check facility can get you to pay the extra $300, 000 or more for those routine findings and it is because in their man hour rate you are going to pay in dollars. But if it is done here you are paying in naira and the labour rate here is cheaper. Also shipping parts to the MRO facility overseas will cost you money but if it is in Nigeria, you just walk across.”
On manpower, Sanusi and Ominyi said the company would reabsorb the engineers that were on redundancy. Any time there was C-check job to be done the company deployed more personnel to do it.
According to Ominyi, “Generally, I have been to many MRO facilities around the world. No MRO facility has all the manpower they need as permanent staff. When the job comes then they hire manpower for that job on contract basis but the important thing you need to mention is the fact that our experience and knowledge will increase because we have been taking these aeroplanes to foreigners to do and they are gaining more and more experience at our expense. The tech rep that goes with the aeroplane is not allowed to touch anything. He is only there to look and to report, but then, once we start doing it here, all those areas that we were not exposed to, we will have the experience from performing those tasks. Whenever there is going to be C-check we will engage manpower of about 50 people.
“We are optimistic that when we do our own C-check for our planes others will see reason to bring theirs for C-check. If I can get something for N200 while should I go elsewhere and pay N300.”
Among operators of domestic airlines, there is optimism that the Aero Contractors’ initiative marks the dawn of a new hope in aircraft maintenance. How far Aero can go in sustaining this optimism remains to be seen.