With improvement in infrastructure, improved regulation and less interferences from the government, the aviation industry is on the path of growth, even as 2018 held so much hope for the sector, writes Chinedu Eze
There were fewer upheavals in the aviation industry in 2018. Also, there were indications that industry has started recording some growth as the sector witnessed the unveiling of two airport terminals, which served as harbinger for the opening of three more terminals all built with federal government’s collaboration with the Chinese.
In addition, after so many years, the federal government was able to settle the emoluments of retired workers of the defunct Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), as Air Peace ordered for 10 brand new aircraft, as Max Air launched full schedule flight service in the outgoing year.
Also, in 2018, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), adopted the training school of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) as international training school for aviation security for West and Central Africa.
In the same year the Nigeria Immigration Service in compliance with the Ease of Doing Business of the federal government introduced visa on arrival to enable investors obtain visa to come to Nigeria without the hurdles that were hitherto known to discourage them from coming to the country.
Early in 2018 Aero Contractors celebrated historical mileage, as it was able to successfully conduct C-check on Boeing B737 Classics. With that achievement, Nigerian airlines have the chance of carrying out the maintenance of their Boeing B737 classics in the country.
But it was not all rosy for the industry in 2018. It was the year that it became obvious that the federal government was not going to realise the pledges it made when it took over in in 2015.
The Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika in his maiden speech had said the federal government was going to concession major airports in the country; establish maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility, float a leasing company and establish a national carrier. As at December 28, 2018, none of these was realised.
In a move that jolted local and international investors, the federal government in September 2018 suspended the implementation of the national carrier project, Nigeria Air, which was scheduled to commence operations in December the same year.
Sirika had pledged that the federal government would honour all its commitments to investors.
Sirika had further clarified that the decision to suspend the airline project was strategic and has nothing to do with politics and pressure from stakeholders.
But on November 7, 2018, the federal government explained that the national carrier, which was earlier billed to kick off in December, was suspended temporarily because the process to actualise it was delayed.
It said the transaction advisers did not complete the process on the modalities for the ownership of the new airline in time and government was unable to provide sovereign guarantee to acquire 30 aircraft for the take-off of the new airline.
Sirika said the major factor that stalled the process was the inability of the federal government to provide sovereign guarantee for the procurement of 30 aircraft estimated at $300 million in a staggered payment till 2020.
According to the Minister, “Estimated funding requirement for the establishment of the project is $300 million up to 2020. Initial start-up capital of $55 million made up of $25 million for deposit for new aircraft and $30 million for working capital from June to December 2018.
In 2018, Nigeria’s leading carrier, Air Peace, made history when it signed an agreement with Boeing for the acquisition of 10 brand new 737 MAX 8 aircraft, thus becoming the first airline in West Africa to add the equipment to its fleet.
Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Mr Allen Onyema, had said the airline was now more positioned to lift Nigeria’s economy, create jobs and transform air travel.
“We are excited to add the 737 MAX to our fleet as we expand our network to offer more destinations and serve more passengers,” said Onyema.
He added: “The fuel efficiency and superior operating economics of the 737 MAX will ensure that the aircraft will play a major role in growing our business in the years to come.”
Air Peace blazed the trail in 2018 by that order and the acquisition of four long haul equipment, Boeing B777s, which it plans to start international operations with. The airline also within a short space of one year acquired six small body aircraft, Embraer 145.
President Muhammadu Buhari last week in Abuja, formally inaugurated the newly- built 15 million passenger-capacity terminal at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), with an assurance that the government was committed to developing Nigeria into a regional air transportation hub, to enable it assume its leadership position in the aviation sub-sector in Africa.
Buhari in his keynote address at the event, he disclosed that his administration recognises aviation as a catalyst for economic growth and will continue to encourage and support the actualisation of projects that would place Nigerian airports among the best in the world.
He stated that with the commissioning of the terminal, Nigeria was moving towards achieving and meeting global aviation standards in facilitation, passenger processing and service delivery in tandem with international best practices.
The formal commissioning of the new terminal, he said, represented yet another significant milestone for international air travellers in and out of the Federal Capital Territory.
“You will recall that on the October 25, 2018, I commissioned Port Harcourt International Airport Terminal. During the event, the Minister of State (Aviation) stated that the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Terminal, Abuja would be completed and ready for commissioning before the end of the year. Today, that promise has been kept. I wish to commend the Minister and his team for a job well done.”
With the commissioning of the two new terminals, FAAN is expected to complete works on the terminals in Lagos, Enugu and Kano so that they would be commissioned by the end of 2019, as the agency said that all the facilities would be put into use before the end of 2019.
Industry stakeholder and former Director of Engineering, Medview Airline, Lukeman Animaseun told THISDAY that 2018 recorded huge achievements in the aviation industry.
Animaseun said that the aviation agency that has recorded significant improvement in the last one year is Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB).
THISDAY learnt that in the past 22 months, AIB had made safety recommendations to government agencies; the FAAN, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Plc, Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) Plc, airlines and helicopter organisations among others.
As at September, 2018, AIB had released 154 safety recommendations to airlines, agencies and aircraft manufacturers since it came on-board, which have had some impacts even in the international arena, but less than average of the recommendations have been implemented by the respective authorities.
For instance, its investigations into the Bristow Helicopter crash, which occurred in Lagos on August 12, 2015 led to the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Sikorsky, the aircraft manufacturer, taking global safety actions to prevent similar accidents in their operations.
Besides, Diamond Aircraft manufacturer also took safety action following the bureau’s investigations into the serious incident involving Diamond DA 42 with registration number 5N-BKS, which occurred in Benin, Edo State, in July 2012.
So far, 73 of the safety recommendations have been released by the current management in less than two years while the other 81 were by previous managements in the bureau.
Animaseun, also observed that what has been discernible in the industry in 2018 was that government allowed “things to flow naturally in the sector without interference, which is good for the airlines and agencies.”
He said kudos should be given to the Muhammadu Buhari administration for the development of infrastructure in the sector and frowned at the habit of Nigerians not celebrating their own; rather, they would eulogise small achievements made by other countries while they refuse to recognise the milestones recorded in Nigeria.
“I give kudos to government for what it has achieved in the area of infrastructure. It is good, as long as it is for the national interest, but unfortunately we do not celebrate our own. Ghana opened a new terminal recently and Nigerians were celebrating it but Nigeria opened two big terminals in Port Harcourt and in Abuja but nobody is celebrating it. That is the problem with us,” Animaseun said.
The industry stakeholder said the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority of Nigeria (NCAA) has done so much in 2018 but because it does not make noise, not many know the significant achievements the regulatory authority has recorded.
He said NCAA is highly efficient and remarked that while it keeps the airlines on their toes, it has not followed its mandate to the letter because if it does, no airline would continue to exist in Nigeria.
Animaseun added that while NCAA is stringent and does not compromise on safety, it makes concessions here and there in order to enable airlines to thrive. This is because the regulatory authority and the airlines are partners in progress.
“NCAA has moved ahead. It monitors the airlines better and regulates them efficiently but if NCAA moves to do what it ought to do by following its regulation to the letter, all the airlines will go under, but there must be a compromise because without the airlines there would be no NCAA,” he said.
Animaseun however, urged the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) to install navigational equipment like the Instrument Landing System (ILS) at more airports, remarking that airlines operate fewer hours than they ought to due to lack landing aids and airfield lighting, which ought to be provided by FAAN.
“The agencies should provide those critical equipment to the airports so that airlines can land more times till into the night. Currently airlines land maximum of seven times in most of these airports. They operate from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. It is not that they cannot land more times but the runway light is not there so they can only land maximum of seven times,” Animaseun said.
After several years of clamour, the federal government in 2018 paid ex-Nigeria Airways Limited workers their remaining pension that run into billions of naira. Anumaseun said that over 90 per cent of the beneficiaries have been paid and that last payment, which is Batch 5, would be done in the second week of the New Year.
Animaseun who is the coordinator of the payment explained that due to infractions with accounts of some of the beneficiaries, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) returned the payment of about 75 of the beneficiaries, adding that those problems have been corrected that they would be among those that will earn their pay in the New Year. With that the federal government would close the ugly chapter that impinged on the image of the industry for several years.