2019: Rising Air Fares, Shrinking Operating Airlines

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Chinedu Eze highlights the high and low points in the aviation sector in the outgoing year

The aviation industry in 2019 recorded less number of operating airlines than the previous years; few number of operating aircraft; fewer number of people employed in the aviation industry, as many airlines went under and their workers lost jobs; but the industry still kept high record in air safety, which is a significant progress made since 2014.

Also, the cost of airfares both in the domestic and international routes were relatively high because in the domestic routes. Also, there were few operating aircraft; while on international routes, foreign carriers continued to hold sway and determine the fares, as local airlines are not competing with them, except in Dubai.

NAMA
The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) worked hard this year to make the nation’s airspace safer with the installation of Instrument Landing System (ILS) in some airports and also improving communication in the airspace.

The agency has completed the installation of Category 3 Instrument Landing System (ILS) at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.

It plans to install the system at the airports known for hostile weather conditions like Port Harcourt, Sokoto, Mainduguri, Katsina and Kano.
Earlier in the year, NAMA installed Category 2 ILS in Benin and it is currently installing the same at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.

With federal government’s resolve to totally eliminate blind spots in the nation’s airspace, NAMA has completed the installation of a VSAT (very small aperture terminal) station at the Jos airport in Plateau State. With the installation, which was completed recently, the agency has successfully integrated the VHF (very high frequency) radio into the network in that sector.

Following the successful installation of the communication equipment in Jos, which covers the whole of the north east, the agency few weeks ago started the installation of another VSAT station and VHF radio systems at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.

When fully completed the projects will finally close blind spots noticed in some parts of the nation’s upper airspace, including the Jos – Obudu corridor.

NAMA has almost completed work on Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) to ensure the flow of information necessary for safety, regularity and efficiency for international air navigation. The project would be competed early 2020. However, the AIS equipment in Lagos has been installed; but the agency is working on the installation of similar equipment in six other places.

Also under the ongoing AIS Automation project, the Installation of VSAT stations has been completed in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, NAMA headquarters and Jos while that of Kano VSAT master station was expected to commence before end of the year. The VSAT stations will be done in 26 airports while the VHF radios will be installed in 14 strategic remote sites to finally eliminate radio blind spots in the upper airways segment of the entire Nigerian airspace.

AIB
Under Akin Olateru as Commissioner/CEO, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) has distinguished itself. The agency has recorded tremendous achievements in 2019. What will be one of the greatest achievements in Nigeria’s transport industry in 2020 will be when AIB will become a multimodal accident investigation agency. This effort has kicked off in 2019 and will be accomplished by next year.

The Bureau has achieved a lot in human capacity development through trainings and retraining of its staff and to achieve this, it has approached several global institutions, one of which is the National Transport and Safety Board (NTSB).

The United States government through NTSB and Safe Skies for Africa programme supported AIB in human capacity development, which attracted several countries such as South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Gabon to sign Memorandum of Understanding, (MOU) with AIB.

With its high level of efficiency, AIB is influencing safety in Africa and has brought in African nations to join the agency in aviation safety programme in conjunction with Safe Skies for Africa and NTSB.
After the bill is hopefully passed by the National Assembly, AIB will become a body responsible for the investigation of accidents in Nigeria: air, road, rail and maritime.

The bill is also expected to approve the agency’s investment in research, development and expansion, as it grows into the biggest aviation accident investigation agency in Africa that is being presently consulted by many countries in the continent.

Recently, ICAO appointed Nigeria’s Engineer, Charles Irikefe Erhueh, a safety investigator with Accident Investigation Bureau, as the new Commissioner of the Banjul Accord Group Accident Investigation Agency (BAGAIA).

FAAN
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) failed to open the new terminals at the international wings of the Kano and Lagos airports, contrary to plans to do so. But work was intensified at the terminal sites but these would be opened early 2020.

The new helmsman, Captain Rabiu Yadudu appointed earlier in the year as the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), has spurred the agency to reform in the areas of security, facilitation and infrastructure.

But it seemed the year came to an end suddenly; so the agency did not execute what it planned to do, which include total refurbishment of escalators, lifts and conveyor belts at MMIA.

Yududu, mulled over the plan to install airfield lighting at many of the busy airports that don’t currently have the facility; so in 2020 airports like Calabar, Owerri, Yola, Enugu, domestic runway of the Lagos airport may have runway lights to conduct flight operations.

FAAN had closed the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu and work has started for the total rehabilitation of the runway and installation of airfield and approach lights.

FAAN has beefed up security at the Lagos airport and other airports in the country with the installation of comprehensive Close Circuit Television (CCTV) and constant patrol of the airside with security operatives.

To prevent bird strike, which has damaged aircraft engines in the past, FAAN established a Hazard Team, which recently adopted a unique way to naturally dislodge bird by changing the environmental characteristics of the habitats, thereby making the birds relocate voluntarily.

FG and NCAT
The International Civil Aviation Organisation at its 40th Assembly recognised Nigeria alongside 27 other countries for their progress in resolving safety oversight and security deficiencies.

Former ICAO Council President, Dr Olumuyiwa Aliu, presented 28 states from all ICAO regions with the council president certificates.
The certificates were in recognition of the states’ significant progress in safety and security as well as effective implementation of ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices as identified through related ICAO audit programmes.

Aliu said based on their achievements in 2018, 16 nations including Nigeria were recognised by the ICAO Council.

The federal government also in 2019 took delivery of a calibration aircraft worth $8.5m to be used for navigational aids across Nigerian airports.
Earlier in the year the federal government delivered automatic aircraft firefighting simulator. However, the training aircraft was domiciled with FAAN.
Before the delivery of the aircraft, FAAN trained its firefighters in Cameroon, spending huge amount of money in foreign exchange

This year also the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria has commenced admission into Ordinary National Diploma (OND), Higher National Diploma (HND) and Post Graduate Diploma into various fields of academy.
NCAT received accreditation from the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) for the legitimate awards of the programmes.

For OND, the College explained that it is running courses on Electrical/Electronics Engineering Technology, Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Technology, while for HND; admissions are available for Aviation Management, Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Technology (Avionics option), Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Technology (Airframe/Power Plant Option).
Besides, the college is also offering PGD in Aviation Management (full time), which would be held in Zaria, Kaduna State.

Aircraft Acquisition
In 2019 Dana Air acquired two additional aircraft, Boeing 737-300, Air Peace acquired two ERJ 145, leased B737-800, while Arik Air added two Bombardier CRJ 900 in a wet lease. Overall, the industry has about 53 aircraft.

Also in 2019, Air Peace made firm order for 13 Embraer E195-E2 jets, while Elin Group, a Nigerian oil and gas servicing company ordered three Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft in collaboration with Aero Contractors. It was really encouraging that all the new acquisitions were made by the privately owned Nigerian airlines and many expected that the planned national carrier, Nigeria Air could have made an order at the recently held Dubai Air Show as part of the sequence to establish the airline, knowing that it takes few years fort the aircraft to begin to arrive.

International Carriers
Nigeria has continued to attract more international airlines as the country maintains position as a dependable market because of its huge passenger traffic. Many factors made this possible and this include the fact that Nigeria has increasing number of outbound travellers, which ensures that airlines have high load factor. The second reason is that Nigeria does not have reciprocal bilateral service because Nigerian airlines have not started competing effectively on international routes, so the foreign airlines face no local competition; rather, they compete among themselves.

Few airlines have also left Nigeria like United Airlines and Air Namibia, but more airlines have started operation into the country, including the latest entrant, TAAG Angola Airlines and Cabo Verde Airline, a national airline of Cape Verde Island. The two airlines started operation to Lagos in December. The industry is still expectant that in 2020 there would be a defined headway on the plan by the federal government to establish a national carrier, aircraft leasing company and aircraft maintenance facility.

Air Peace and Aero Contractors recorded great achievements in 2019. The former successfully started its first long-haul operation to Sharjah, while the later strengthened its aircraft maintenance capability by incorporating the conduct of Boeing New Generation aircraft, Embraer aircraft and Airbus. Once the airline received approval certificate from NCAA, it would start conducting C-check on the aforementioned.

Comparatively, there is not much to cheer in terms of progress made in the industry since the beginning to the end of 2019 but 2019 has prepared for a greater year for the industry in 2020.