At different for a, industry stakeholders have expressed concerns about the unemployment of about 500 indigenous pilots, whereas Nigerian airlines employ expatriate pilots and pay them huge emoluments, including outrageous holiday allowances.
Also, Nigerian airlines and other aviation organisations employ expatriate engineers, technical advisers, flight schedulers, cabin crew managers, commercial directors and even airline financial managers.
THISDAY spoke to industry operatives, who explained that the reason why many indigenous pilots are unemployed and Nigerian airlines rely on expatriate hands is because the locals are not exposed to the requisite experience and expertise after training.
The operatives said that the Nigerian system lack consistent platform for further training after the initial training from the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, the International Aviation College, Ilorin and other aviation training schools in the country.
This break in the chain of training that gave rise to lack of requisite experience among Nigerian pilots and engineers, industry experts said, is costing Nigeria huge resources in foreign exchange and has given boost to capital flight from the aviation industry.
THISDAY also spoke to airline managers, who said they prefer engaging indigenous personnel to employing foreigners but the challenge they have is that there are not enough local pilots and engineers that have the needed experience.
Airlines pay more than double what they would pay a Nigerian pilot to engage an expatriate. The airline in addition will pay for the foreign pilot’s flight ticket business class anytime he travels, pay for his accommodation in Nigeria, pay for his security and also may receive only six months of his service in a year, as he would use the rest of the year for vacation overseas.
Recently, many Nigerian carriers have become averse to engaging expatriate pilots and other technical personnel but they seem to have no immediate alternative; except they engage on a training programme to provide continuity for further training of Nigerian technical personnel at a huge cost and fear that after training the pilot may decide to move to another airline locally or overseas.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aero Contractors, who is also former Vice President and Chief Flight Officer of Arik Air, Captain Ado Sanusi also spoke on the dilemma of both the young Nigerian pilots and engineers and the Nigerian airlines over manpower development and employment in the country’s aviation industry.
He explained: “The problem when you have expatriates is that they have the expertise; that is why you call them expatriates, so you are bringing in experts. You are not bringing in people fresh from school that have no experience; you are bringing people that are experienced; that have the expertise to come and fill the gaps for you. While the expert is there, it is expected that the locals would be getting experience and getting the expertise to take over. This is how the full system works and that is how it could be a sustainable way of developing human capacity.
“But when you have a break in this chain then it becomes a big problem. That is a situation whereby there is no continuity in the training chain. There won’t be anybody taking those who have freshly graduated to train them further and give them the needed experience.”
He acknowledged that there are young pilots that have graduated from school and they don’t still have a job and then Nigerian airlines still engage expatriates that are flying.
“Yes, we have expatriates that are flying in Nigeria but I can guarantee you that no operator will engage a pilot, fresh from school to come and fly. They always employ people that have experience and the expertise. So in Nigeria the human capacity development does not have continuity. When we do the basic training, we are supposed to feed that workforce into the industry, where there will now go in and start gathering experience and do what they are supposed to do until they gain experience.”
Sanusi proffered solutions to this problem, suggesting that government should give Nigerian airlines incentives to provide continuity training for Nigerian pilots, engineers and other technical personnel in the aviation sector.
“I have been advocating for government to give incentives to airlines. If an airline absorbs 10 Nigerian pilots and you can show that you have trained them, government should give the airline tax breaks; you give them tax holidays or you give them something that will encourage them to absorb the pilots. This will make the airlines go the extra mile to ensure they absorb the trained indigenous personnel. This is because it is quite expensive to absorb these pilots.”
THISDAY investigation has also revealed that many Nigerians youths who trained as pilots with the initial certificates and do not have the huge finances needed to go for type rating overseas languish at home, waiting for jobs that may not come, or leaving their calling to do other things just to survive.