FG Urged to Replace Presidential Jet over Cost of Maintenance

FG Urged to Replace Presidential Jet over Cost of Maintenance

Chinedu Eze

Industry experts conversant with the operations of the presidential jet, Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), which is Nigeria’s Air Force 1, acquired by President Olusegun Obasanjo, 22 years ago, are of the view that the federal government should change the aircraft because of the high cost of maintenance.

Obviously, as aircraft gets older, it costs more to maintain in order to keep it airworthy and for presidential jet, extra care is taken to sustain its safety status.

The Managing Director and CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, told THISDAY that the presidential jet belong to the Boeing 737 New Generation 800 variant (B737-800 NG), which production has been stopped by Boeing and the production line has been replaced by Boeing 737 MAX. Although Boeing is still producing the spares and that of Boeing Classics, B737-200 and others, but the spares are costlier and cost of maintenance is higher.

He noted that currently there is high demand of these spares because those who own Boeing classics and NGs are holding on to them until issues concerning Boeing 737 MAX are sorted out, hence the high demand for spares of these aircraft types until they are eventually replaced with MAX.

Sanusi also disclosed that there is shortage of Boeing 737 NG engines because during COVID-19, attention was directed at producing health related equipment and some factories that hitherto produced engines diverted to producing medical equipment and now that there is demand for aircraft engine the supply is not meeting the demand.

Sanusi added that because of the engine of these aircraft types have been flown for a long time, most of the engines need performance restoration and most of the shops that can undertake this overhaul are already full.

Overall, he noted that maintaining this aircraft costs more because of the age and the fact that it is no more in production and there is high demand for the spares, which drives up the cost.

“So, they ought to upgrade the aircraft. It is good to modernize your equipment. The challenge really is that the aircraft may not have operated many hours like the commercial aircraft on service, but even with low utilization, if you keep them they will look new but the fact is that they are outdated. So, what is done is either you advance the existing aircraft or you replace it. There is a limit in which you can advance existing aircraft because it has flown many hours.  Currently there is better technology which quickly makes existing ones outmoded; so, the best is to replace the presidential jet,” he said.

According to a study carried out by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), technical aging is the inherent effect of age on the aircraft over time.

“Materials degrade with time, and each aircraft sub-assembly ages at its own rate depending on calendar time and flight hours and cycles. The total aircraft’s aging is found by the combination of the aging of all its individual components. Technical aging is influenced by the following factors, which define the operator’s context: aircraft design, technology and material (aluminum, titanium, steel, composites…); scope of the maintenance (cabin, specific operator programme, modifications); maintenance program (check interval: block concept, semi or fully equalized).”

The study stated that the purposes of technical, economic and financial aging technical, economic and financial aging have different purposes. Technical and economic aging are used to estimate the aging effect on the aircraft itself. The purpose of financial aging is to plan the budget and build provisions for future expenses (although very difficult to predict).

“Understanding aircraft aging is critical for the fleet management to decide when an aircraft needs to be replaced. This decision process has to be performed with a global approach, considering: the aircraft direct operating costs, with a focus onthe maintenance event cost cash flow (economic aging), in particular the engine fleet maintenance policy of the fuel costs or other costs (training, inventory/spares, tooling, leasing/financing, etc.”

THISDAY learnt that one month to the expiration of the tenure of former President Muhammadu Buhari, the aircraft was sent for a comprehensive maintenance ahead of the inauguration of Tinubu’s government.

But since Tinubu took over and inherited the aircraft, it has been sent for other rounds of scheduled and non-scheduled maintenance.

THISDAY also learnt that the aircraft had amassed over $5 million in maintenance bills, constituting nearly half of the over $10 million liabilities inherited at the presidential fleet.

“Due to the age of the aircraft, maintenance cost has increased in recent times, and the amount of money spent on maintenance is huge. I am wondering how long it would take to continue to spend this much on maintenance when it could have been disposed of and a new one purchased,” an informed source told THISDAY.

The General Secretary, Society of Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (SLAMEN), Sheri Kyari, suggested that purchasing a new aircraft would be better to reduce the maintenance cost.

“It is better for the government to buy a new one. How much is a brand new aircraft? They should be able to get something much better from Boeing. For me, Boeing is still the way to go,” he said.

The challenge in aircraft maintenance is that Nigeria does not have advanced maintenance facility where major overhaul can be carried out on some aircraft types like Boeing Business Jet; so, the maintenance must be conducted overseas at huge cost. Line maintenance like A and B checks could be done in Nigeria but C checks have to be done overseas at huge cost.

The IATA study noted that the first reason for the increase in maintenance cost due to age is linked to the routine maintenance, which include the number of routine tasks to maintain the aircraft which increases with age. The other is aircraft utilisation, as the aircraft ages, and there are additional tasks to perform, it will demand more checks to be carried out.

As the aircraft continues to operate under the presidential jet fleet, no doubt, more money will be needed to acquire more spares and more money will be needed to ferry it overseas to conduct higher maintenance checks.

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