Growing Indigenous Technical Manpower in Aviation


Last week Aero Contractors signed memorandum of understanding with the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria, on the training of young Nigerians that will man the technical areas in the industry in the future. Chinedu Eze writes that such partnership will provide answer to the dearth of skilled manpower in the sector

There are concerns that in the coming years there might be global dearth of technical manpower like pilots and engineers and this be worse in Africa, where there is no articulated training programme for skilled manpower development in the technical areas of the aviation industry.

World’s major aircraft manufacturer, Airbus in May this year projected that there would be global need of about 600,000 pilots and the same number of engineers in the next 20 years, to operate about 50, 000 aircraft and expressed the fear that such manpower might not be readily available.

This, experts say, would be worse in Africa, as airlines from the region may not sustain competitive emoluments needed to keep pilots and engineers, who are free to move to any parts of the world where there are more attractive salaries and better welfare packages.

In Nigeria, the major setback is that there is no policy on manpower development in the sector. Training is left for individual airlines and some state governors who are informed about the critical need of aviators offer scholarship to their citizens to train at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria and other aviation training institutions.

Over the years, Nigerian airlines have depended on expatriate technical manpower at whooping and outrageous emoluments and sometimes leave period that is up to six months in a year. This is because there is no continuous training of engineers and pilots since after the demise of Nigeria Airways Limited, which had programme for manpower development.

Many of the pilots and engineers trained by Nigeria Airways had retired so the industry inevitably depended on expatriates to fill that vacuum. But this comes at huge cost as earlier stated, but Nigerians are beginning to replace the expatriates, as many of them return to the country to take up those critical jobs in the airlines and aviation industry in general.

The Aero Example
Therefore, last week, Aero Contractors signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria for the training of students engineers.

Aero Contractors has Aircraft Maintenance Organisation (AMO) certification and for over two years has been conducting C-check on Boeing Classics in addition to the company’s ability to conduct D-checks on Bombardier Q300/400 Dash 8 aircraft, helicopters and other small airplanes.

Although the airline has a crop of engineers, but the management felt the need to train young engineers who would succeed the current staff when they retire. So it was this visionary programme that prompted Aero Contractors to start the collaboration with NCAT.

During the signing of MoU, the Chief Executive Officer and Accountable Manager of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, noted that the collaboration was a demonstration of the two organisations to deepen Human Capacity Development (HCD), which they were committed to achieve for the growth of the Nigerian aviation sector.

“This MOU is going to set in motion, the annual OJT (On the Job Training) for NCAT student engineers for a three-month period to enable them gain practical experience on aircraft maintenance knowledge before proceeding for another specialised intense training at Aero’s Rotary and Fixed Wing Departments.
“Aero shall expose the student engineers to invaluable experience in our workshops, on planning, detailed knowledge on airframe and other matters vital to acquiring knowledge on aircraft maintenance,” Sanusi said.

He explained that on completion of this robust maintenance exposure, “I am pleased to announce here, that the management of Aero Contractors is pledging an offer of immediate employment to the best 10 student engineers that emerge from the OJT.

“They shall be distributed five each to our Rotary and Fixed Wing Departments. Aero has chosen this course of action to demonstrate our unequivocal support to the stated policy of the federal government of Nigeria, which is to create employment opportunities for our youth demographic.”

Capacity Building
Sanusi said Aero is one of the few AMOs, which has made the critical linkage between human capacity development and employment creation as the basis for effectively servicing Nigeria’s ever growing aviation sector.

“It is our stated objective in Aero, to contribute to making aviation professionals have technical capacity, thus making them employable and most importantly, to create employment opportunities for younger Nigerian aviation professionals to aide them compete favourably with their colleagues from other parts of the world,” the Aero CEO said.

He urged the federal government to continue to encourage companies, which have a proven antecedent of human capacity development and employment creation, noting that this is a proven path by which the organised private sector could accentuate the attainment of employment creation as advocated by the federal government.

On his part, the Rector of the College, Captain Abdulsalami Mohammed commended Aero Contractors and noted that the airline has continued to play an important role in advancing the safety and growth of aviation in Nigeria.

“We are, therefore, extremely delighted to partner with you,” he said.

This collaboration is unique in the sense that both parties have a long history in the aviation field (Aero being the oldest airline and NCAT the oldest aviation training organization; Additionally, Aero is the first MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) and NCAT is the first ATO (Aviation Training Organisation) to be certified by the NCAA).

“Human capacity development is fundamental to the sustainable development of aviation. However, achieving the goal of sufficient and efficiently trained manpower demands a sustained synergy and partnership among the critical stakeholders. Aero has had a long history of developing human capacity. I can recall that when I came to this College as a student in 1975, some of the students in my class were sponsored by Aero Contractors,” the Rector said.

He remarked that the problem of lack of job opportunities in aviation is a great concern to me “personally. As CEO of a training organization, it’s painful to see young qualified Nigerians finding it difficult to secure jobs. Therefore, it’s profoundly heartwarming the pledge by Aero contractors to absorb 10 of NCAT students after the end of their stay in Aero.”

Mohammed assured Aero of NCAT’s total commitment to the development of aviation professionals.
“Because of this, we will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure that the aviation sector has well-trained and skilled manpower,” he said.

The NCAT Rector said that the school is one of the well-equipped aviation training centres in the world and disclosed that it offers training in different fields of aviation. In addition to training pilots, engineers, cabin crew, the College offers training to air traffic controllers who are exposed to 3-D control tower simulator, where students are taught life like situation of airports environment.

“We can simulate any airport that we want. This one is Abuja airport. If the controller is sitting at the control tower in Abuja, this is what they see. So, the students will have a better view, so after this training, we also take them on the job training in these airports, so, they go and work under the supervision of the air traffic controllers there and they see how things are done in real life. By going through this, you know they are better equipped now to appreciate and participate in it, he explained.

He said the training takes two years for the air traffic controllers, disclosing that there is a component of flight training in their curriculum, “because we want them to appreciate what the pilots go through. So, if a pilot tells them something, they know what they are talking about.”
He said virtually all the air traffic controllers of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and Nigeria Air Force were trained at the College.

There are also some other people that come from outside Nigeria.
“Right now, we even have students from Gambia training and Cameron that just left. They came to do English language training, which is part of what this whole place offers,” the Rector said.
He said the school would supply Aero the trainees it needs.

“We presently have about 60 students that are due for On-the-Job Training next month and some of them will be going to Aero and some will be going to other airlines. We have quite enough students and don’t forget, it is not only the engineering schools, we also have other schools whose students require OJT as part of their training because in addition to what you can teach someone in the classroom, there is a need for him to go out on the field to experience real life way of doing this. This is why OJT is part of their training.”

Grooming the Students
Sanusi said that Aero plans to expand its maintenance facility to also conduct checks on Boeing New Generation aircraft, Embraer and Airbus aircraft. The expansion would need more manpower and recruiting young skilled Nigerians will give the company advantage because the staff will grow on the job and in future take over the critical responsibility of conducting checks on the aircraft with invaluable experience. So the airline will not need expatriates but dedicated staff that rose from the ranks in the company.

Expressing surprise at the improvement the College has recorded, Sanusi said, “I was pleasantly surprised to see the improvements and the vision that NCAT under the leadership of Abdulsalami Mohammed. They are moving towards the real time maintenance of electronic aircraft that we have like the A220, the Embraer etc.

“So, the institution has grown and has shown they will start producing students that will meet the challenge of the new maintenance we are going to enter. We will just increase our capability list.
“We have seen the basis and from what we have seen, it is beyond what we needed and we are very pleased with the kind of students that we will be receiving because with this level of equipment they have and exposure they have, the students will not be lost when they come to our facility.”

Aero’s good gesture on human capital development in the aviation sector is worthy of emulations and it is expected that other airlines should take a cue from the company, which has a long history of manpower development.