Not yet Uhuru

Nigerian aviation has done relatively well despite factors that threatened its very foundation. WOLE SHADARE writes that despite a good scorecard, more still needs to be done

 

Aviation in the past three years since the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari was a potpourri. Activities in the sector started slowly, but picked up as time went by, ostensibly because of the change in administration. A lot had happened, which have in no small measure tested the resilience of the industry.

The appointment of Hadi Sirika as minister of state for aviation left many with the view that the sector would not be on a roller coaster, but with one who understand the sector in and out as a result of his stint in the sector, having being an aviator.

Promising despite challenges

Although, the sector has witnessed the good, the bad and ugly, none was strong enough to shake the sector to its foundation as the aviation regulatory agency, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has stepped into the plate to give the sector one of its best years in terms of aviation safety and security.

Notwithstanding the bashing of NCAA, it has lived up to its responsibility as the policeman of a critical sector. It is not just by luck that the sector, just like the global aviation industry, has witnessed a huge leap in aviation safety and security unlike in the past where aircraft were dropping from the sky; a situation which greatly affected passenger confidence in air travel.

 

 

Expert’s view

 

Experts in the sector have disclosed that the reason Nigeria had over three years accident-free was as a result of human capital development.

Chairman, Aviation Round Table, Gbenga Olowo, noted that in the past five years, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) have made its members to be principally responsible for safety and not necessarily the regulatory body.

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He explained that carriers have also identified human capital development through routine and schedule training for all pilots. In particular, error accounts for about 80 per cent of all aviation accidents.

He disclosed that there has also been implementation of safety management system and more budgets have been set aside for maintenance and dedicated account for maintenance as accident is planned through neglect and poor maintenance.

 

Waning airlines profit

 

The first and second year of the Buhari administration saw airlines’ profitability drop so sharply, no thanks to recession that ravaged Nigeria’s economy. Thankfully, Nigeria’s exit from recession brought a glimmer of hope despite the fact that the economy is still very fragile. The year brought excruciating pain to carriers, aviation agencies and other support service providers, who depend solely on foreign exchange. There are three key factors threatening Nigeria’s airline industry.

Olateru injects life into AIB

Since his appointment by the Federal Government on January 13, 2013, Commissioner, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Akin Olateru, moved speedily to reposition the agency to one that is vibrant and result-oriented by first resuscitating its almost moribund accident laboratory, training and retraining of workers, signing of a pact with University of Ilorin for students to use it for research purposes and the release of over seven accident reports, including that of Dana that occurred in 2012, in an unprecedented manner. These also included recommendations that are far reaching. Olateru had released over 15 reports since he assumed office. It was an unprecedented feat coming from the aircraft engineer.

Air Peace blazes the trail

Nigeria’s flag carrier airline, Air Peace, had, last month, signed an agreement with Boeing for the acquisition of 10 new 737 MAX 8 aircraft, making history as the first airline in West Africa to add the equipment to its fleet.
Air Peace already operates Boeing 737s and Embraer 145s on its domestic and regional routes. The airline, which recently added Boeing 777s to its fleet, is looking to soon launch its international flight operations.

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Challenges

 

It was not all that rosy for the sector, as the biggest challenge facing the industry is obsolete and decaying infrastructure. Domestic airlines have complained so much about their operations. They always accuse government of lack of support, the high cost of insurance premium, the fluctuating prices of aviation fuel and inadequate infrastructure, including having airport runways without airfield lighting, lack of adequate boarding gates at major airports and high airport charges and taxes.

But despite these complaints, Nigerian airlines have continued to operate, airlifting thousands of passengers every month to different domestic destinations. Possibly, it may be because there are always airlines willing to join the market that make concerned authorities not to bother much about these complaints of domestic carriers.

 

 

Facility decay

The case of Enugu and Benin airports readily comes to mind with pilots calling for the aerodromes to be closed. While government is trying its best to fix these facilities, many wonder how the last administration was profligate with the manner it ‘wasted’ over N800 billion on airport remodelling that many described as a charade and huge exhibition of corrupt practices.

Navigational upgrade

In the area of air navigation, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), with the support of the Federal Government, has spent huge sums of money on navigational facilities.

Despite huge funds spent to overhaul navigational equipment for seamless air navigation, the Federal Government has invested over $40 million to confront challenges faced by NAMA.

Already, the agency had acquired category three Instrument Landing System (ILS) for Lagos and Abuja airports to forestall flight glitches during extreme weather conditions. An ILS enables pilots to conduct an instrument approach to landing if they are unable to establish visual contact with the runway. A CAT III operation is a precision approach at lower than CAT II minima and even at zero visibility.

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It would be recalled that harmattan haze, last December, led to practical shutdown of local flight operations for days when horizontal visibility dropped below the stipulated minima 800 metres.

National carrier suspension

One visible area that drew criticisms was the suspension of a national carrier, Nigeria Air, which they described as a still born. President Buhari had made the establishment of national airline one of his priorities. Everything was going on well until the Federal Government put a stop to it, albeit temporarily, thereby dashing the hope of many who thought that the country would have an airline it can call its own.

The question is, does every country need a national airline? The consensus is that as more countries adopt Open Skies agreements and open their borders with neighbours, each country no longer need its own airline, especially loss-making ones being supported by governments. An airline operator who craved anonymity, said: “If the choice was whether I wanted to have a national airline and pay a shitload of taxpayer money just to maintain the flag on airplanes, compared to having someone else come and fill the void, I’d choose someone else,” he said. “If nations want their flags to be carried, they can do it in many other ways.”

 

Last Line

 

No doubt, 2015-2018 has proven to be a relatively very successful year for aviation in Nigeria with its occasional troubles. It is hoped that the next four will be more successful for the sector.

Wole Shadare