Keyamo racing against time to fix ‘ailing’ aviation sector

The Minister of Aviation, Mr. Festus Keyamo is actually racing against time to fix many of the issues he inherited in the aviation industry. His time actually starts now. His tenure would be judged by the level of impact he makes in the next four years. He looks capable of turning the tide to reposition the country’s aviation sector, writes, WOLE SHADARE

Reactions

The appointment of a lawyer and a human rights activist, Mr. Festus Keyamo as Minister of Aviation by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has continued to elicit a lot of reactions from stakeholders.

While some are of the view that the President ‘erred’ in appointing a greenhorn to oversee a delicate sector like the aviation sector, others have expressed confidence in the ability of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to midwife the sector and reposition it for efficiency and profitability.

 

Festus Keyamo (SAN)

The new aviation Minister has his work cut out going by the myriads of problems confronting the sector. It is not as if the sector had not done well, there are challenges stakeholders believe that he urgently needs to tackle.

Aside from that, not a few were of the view that there were issues like the astronomical increase and the difficulty in accessing Foreign Exchange, two key issues that are beyond the Minister.

Rejiging aviation roadmap

The former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika was committed to delivering the key components of the Aviation sector Roadmap which is aimed at creating an enabling environment for the industry which he did not complete before he left office.

The Roadmap comprises the concession of four airports in Abuja, Port-Harcourt, Lagos, and Kano, the establishment of a national carrier (Nigeria Air), the development of agro-allied / cargo terminals, the establishment of Maintenance, Repairs, and overhaul (MRO) centre, the establishment of an Aviation Leasing Company (ALC).

Others are the development of Aerotropolis (Airport cities), the establishment of an Aerospace University, and the improvement in Aviation Safety and Security through upgrades and Modernization of Aviation infrastructure and facilities.

Some of the projects had reached an advanced stage while others were still at the preparatory stage. The much-talked-about national airline is one many have welcomed but criticized the way and manner the process was driven by the ex-minister.

The processes for the all-important Air Operator Certificate (AOC) are still with the aviation regulatory body, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) just as the former Minister had gone ahead to concession some airports shortly before he left office.

READ ALSO:  FAAN seeks solution to MMA2 concession

Since the Federal Government had challenges with resources, airport concession was seen as a better way of encouraging the private sector to invest in airport infrastructure development.

Nigerian airlines

Airlines’ rescue

Aside from the roadmap, Keyamo had been told to look at various means of helping the carriers with a view to ameliorating the myriads of issues that affect their operations and stem the frequent extinction of airlines.

Vice-chancellor of Federal University Oye Ekiti, Ekiti State, Prof. Kayode Soremekun in a letter to the Minister expressed disgust at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos terminal, stressing that as a fairly frequent traveler, he feels diminished anytime he gets to the terminal.

He also noted that as one of his priorities, Nigeria ‘must’ have its own national airline, adding that one of the best ways to do this is for the Minister to have a sustained interaction with members of the Aviation Round Table (ART).

Soremekun stated that many international airlines have emptied themselves into Nigeria, adding that on the other hand, Nigeria lacks the capacity to reciprocate.

He however doubted the capacity of the country’s airlines to compete with their foreign counterparts because of the huge cooperation that exists amongst them.

“If the new Minister takes to this advice, chances are that his learning curve will be very short and in the process, he will achieve a lot for Nigeria in this vital sector.”

Meanwhile, Keyamo has assured stakeholders that he would be fair to all, just as he promised not to abandon the aviation sector roadmap, and tinker with a few things with a view to putting the sector on a sound footing.

Keyamo’s first step

The Minister seems to have hit the ground running with a post on his verified ‘X’ handle @fkeyamo, disclosing at the weekend that he met with his counterparts in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Foreign Affairs Ministries to jointly resolve issues involving our Ministries.

“The first is to jointly work with the FCT Ministry to resolve the issue of the FCT indigenes who need to be compensated and relocated before the construction of the 2nd runway at the Abuja airport can commence in earnest. The contractors have been mobilised to move to the site.”

READ ALSO:  India deploys Air India to airlift nationals from Nigeria, ramps up further flights  

“The second is to work with the Foreign Affairs Ministry to resolve the issue of the resumption of Emirates Airline flights to Dubai/UAE and the related issue of resumption of issuance of Dubai visas to Nigerians. We are presently making progress on these issues.”

Yes, some analysts have expressed concern that the Minister is focusing on areas that do not need urgent attention. They believe that the second Abuja runway is not a priority for now considering the low traffic at Abuja airport considered the second busiest aerodrome in Nigeria behind Lagos.

Others are of the view that having a second runway for a busy airport like Abuja is desirable because of the strategic importance of the facility to air transport.

Concession imbroglio

Another issue in the country’s aviation industry Keyamo may have to urgently address is the concession and renaming of airports by the past administration.

Less than two weeks to the end of former President Buhari’s tenure, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the concession of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, and Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano, to the Corporacion American Airport Consortium.

The approval, which came the same day the Aviation ministry signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MoU) for the commencement of the African Aviation and Aerospace University (AAAU), was described by Mr Sirika as “momentous” for Nigeria’s aviation industry.

By the agreement on the concession, Corporacion America Airports Consortium will make an upfront payment of $7 million to run the Abuja airport for 20 years and $1.5 million for Kano airport for 30 years. The total revenue from concessioning the two airports during the period is estimated at over $4 billion.

In a scathing review of the agreement, the Senate described the concession agreement as “not transparent or done in the public’s interest.” The senators granted additional prayer on the motion to allow the Senate Committee on Aviation to summon the authorities in the Federal Ministry of Aviation over the agreement.

 Dollar scarcity

The scarcity of foreign exchange in the country has continued to impact the aviation industry negatively as airline operators scramble to access forex for their operations.

Meanwhile, due to their inability to repatriate their funds in the country,  some foreign airlines on several occasions threatened to halt operations in Nigeria. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) repeatedly criticised Nigeria’s failure to allow international airlines to repatriate their profits, warning it may cause the country more damage.

READ ALSO:  Deportation: Air Peace passengers didn’t fulfil entry conditions, says Saudi Arabia

Aviation fuel, multiple taxation, others

Recently, the high cost of aviation fuel worsened the operation of domestic airlines amidst difficulty in accessing foreign exchange. This led some airlines to shut down operations, while air ticket prices increased.

On several occasions, airline operators complained about the operational challenges and how it has hindered progress in the aviation industry. Mr Sirika during one of his interventions last year, pleaded with Nigerian airlines to suspend their planned shutdown of operations over the increase in the cost of aviation fuel from N190 to N700 per litre.

Flight delays and cancellations 

Another pressing issue the incoming aviation minister will need to tackle is rising cases of flight cancellations and delays.

The NCAA, in a report titled “Executive Summary on International and Domestic Flight Operations” published last month, said over half of the domestic flights in Nigeria between January and March were delayed.

The report which further confirmed the complaints of travellers about incessant flight delays in the country’s airports, noted that of the total 18,288 domestic flights within the period under review, 10,128 were delayed (about 55 percent).

Many Nigerians have lamented the delays as they took to social media to narrate their experiences with some flights delayed for over 24 hours.

The NCAA also noted that the 11 domestic airlines operating in the country had 284 flight cancellations within this period.

Many Nigerians will await the steps Mr Keyamo will take to tackle the incessant flight delays and cancellations.

Last line

While Keyamo may be racing against time to fix many of the problems he inherited, some dating back to 2000, he is not oblivious to the task ahead of him. In fact, his time starts now and will be judged by the impact he makes in the next year to uplift the aviation industry in Nigeria.

Wole Shadare