Q1 REVIEW: Drawing the curtain on Sirika’s stewardship

 

The appraisal of the aviation industry in the first quarter of 2023 and by extension the evaluation of the tenure of the current administration is one that elicits cautious excitement. By and large, it is one that came with so much promise and one that lived up to its billing amid several challenges that the sector still faces, writes, WOLE SHADARE

The current administration has a few weeks before it winds down. It is proper to begin to take a look at how the aviation industry in Nigeria has fared in the first quarter of 2023 and more importantly, it is period to begin to take a microscopic look at the stewardship of the outgoing Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika.

Onerous task

It was very clear late in 2022 that the Minister and his team were trying to consolidate what they have aimed at for the past four years when Sirika became substantive Minister overseeing the aviation industry.

The roadmap of the Minister for the aviation industry had come under scrutiny among stakeholders who are divided over the actualization of the ambitious programme which they believe that if well implemented could reposition the sector and give it the direction that has been lacking for decades. Yes, not a few believe that for the shortage of time, the programmes encapsulated in the Roadmap may not totally be achieved under this current administration but would have provided a template for the incoming administration of President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu to build on.

Interrogating the roadmap

The key components of the Aviation sector Roadmap which is aimed at creating an enabling environment for the industry to thrive comprise the concession of four airports, the establishment of a national carrier (Nigeria Air), and the development of agro-filled / cargo terminals.

Others are the establishment of a Maintenance, Repairs, and overhaul (MRO) centre, the establishment of an Aviation Leasing Company (ALC), the development of Aerotropolis (Airport cities), the establishment of an Aerospace University, improvement in aviation safety and security through upgrades and modernization of aviation infrastructure and facilities.

The Minister would be assessed by how far he has been able to accomplish all of these processes or how far he has been able to marshal out a good structure for the next administration to build on.

The Minister, penultimate week in Abuja at a one-day national aviation stakeholders’ forum 2023 said most of the programmes on the Roadmap had reached the 90 percent completion stage.

The national aviation stakeholders’ forum is a platform for the appraisal of all the aviation agencies under the Ministry of Aviation to see whether they have delivered on the projects and to benchmark their performances.

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“It is good to tell them that we have implemented our roadmap. We developed a roadmap on May 16, 2016. We unveiled it to more than 1000 people in a forum”, he said.

The national carrier issue has continued to dominate discourses since the Federal Government showed serious last quarter of 2022. It is one project in which opinions have been sharply divided. It is a project that has torn friendships apart as proponents and critics of the project have continued to hold their grounds that the project is another white elephant project, others have pointed out the advantages of having a national carrier that would take care of the country’s unused Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA) and how it would engender growth in the country’s aviation industry. The critics view the whole process as not transparent enough for them to back the project.

Whichever way it is viewed, Sirika disclosed that the project had reached an advanced stage and concluded that the airline will fly before May 29; an assurance that had enlivened the sector despite litigation by a group of airlines that may stall take-off of the airline. The nation is in a waited-breath to see the possibility of the airline taking to the sky amid so much uncertainty.

The plan to turn the Lagos airport into an airport city or what is generally believed to be an aerotropolis has also come with so much criticism by some stakeholders who viewed it as misplaced but Sirika is undaunted remarking that contrary to insinuations that he had pulled back from the aerotroplis project, he reaffirmed his commitment to bequeathing a better airport environment to users of the Lagos airport.

The terminal

He said, “We will demolish and create a proper aviation city. You would think it is ambitious, but it is not at all. I need to quickly remind us that we will not be selling public assets in view of the concession of some of our airports. We won’t go the way of the way some of our national assets were sold without achieving anything tangible with the money.”

“Lagos airport is going to be concessioned because of the decay of infrastructure and we are going to be giving it to the private sector to develop, run it and return it to the country. We will go on with the concession and there is no going back on it that is the best way to go and those saying it will lead to job loss are only mischievous. It is not true. It would rather create more jobs”.

The Minister equally stated that to give way for the linkage of the Lagos domestic and international airport, there was the need to take away some buildings housing the old national headquarters of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and to make the country’s major airports to compare with many airport cities across the world.

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A Nigerian registered private aircraft

Sore point

While sympathizing with foreign airlines over their trapped funds, he appealed to the carriers to exercise a little more patience, adding that information available to him showed that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was already trying to sort out the problem by paying them.

The humongous foreign airlines’ trapped funds which have hit over $700 million is a sore point in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari administration as the country has consistently been in the news for all the wrong reasons for huge funds of the airlines trapped in the country and one that has made the carriers introduced a harsh ticketing policy for Nigerian travelers which has seen fares quadruple as the carriers decided to close the lower fare inventory for the highest inventory.

Massive infrastructure development

To underscore its achievements in the area of infrastructure, the FAAN, a few weeks ago closed the 18 Right runway of the Lagos airport which operated day operations to fix the airfield lighting that was lacking for more than 17 years.

When FAAN issued a notice for the closure of the facility for repairs, some of the airlines protested but FAAN went ahead with the project and completed it in record time.

During the Abuja airport closure, The Minister appeared in the National Assembly, between the joint sittings with the two houses and the committees. There is actually no law in Nigeria that bars the government from developmental projects. As usual, there were protests on why the runway should not be closed to fix the craters that had destroyed the nose wheels of airlines.  The Abuja airport runway repairs qualified for another wonder of the world as a whole brand new runway was delivered in less than eight weeks.

Stranded passengers at Lagos airport

Aviation sector audit

As the aviation sector prepares for the coming audit of the sector by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) next quarter 2023, all stakeholders are not leaving any stone unturned in a bid to come out with flying colours as witnessed in previous audits. The audit, which is expected to take place in the first quarter of 2023, has become the top priority of entire agencies of aviation including the FAAN, the NSIB, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), the NCAA, NAMA and the airlines.

Road to COVID-19 recovery

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The tremendous work of the NCAA and its Director-General, Capt. Musa Nuhu which developed an enviable recovery template that helped the country to recover fast from the pandemic had been commended globally. The rate the Nigerian aviation industry recovered far quicker than the United States and the United Kingdom during the COVID-19 pandemic is a case of how clear-headed Capt Nuhu and the Ministry of Aviation marshaled the COVID-19 protocols for aviation recovery to the admiration of even advanced nations.

Aviation sector bills

The Ministry successfully pushed for the amendment of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) Act in order to merge accident investigations in the maritime, railway, and aviation sectors.

This was aimed at improving the safety of air, rail, and water transport and also to raise the standard of accident investigation in the two other sectors as it is currently with air transport.

Enugu airport runway

President Buhari signed the Civil Aviation Act, the Nigerian Metrological Agency, and six other Bills passed by the National Assembly into law.

The Civil Aviation Act, which repealed the Civil Aviation Act, Number 6, 2006, provides for an effective legal and institutional framework for the regulation of civil aviation in Nigeria to promote aviation safety and security, ensure that Nigeria’s obligations under international aviation agreements are implemented, and consolidate the law relating to civil aviation regulation in Nigeria.

AIB transmuted into the National Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) empowered to investigate road, rail, and marine accidents. This followed the signing into law of the new NSIB Act 2022 by President Muhammed Buhari this week after the Supreme Court gazetted it on November 28, 2022.

This followed the signing into law of the new NSIB Act 2022 by President Muhammed Buhari this week after the Supreme Court gazetted it on November 28, 2022.

12 new fire trucks for four airports

Sirika at the weekend commissioned ten firefighting trucks. The trucks would be deployed by officers of the Fire and Safety Department of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

Commissioning the equipment in Lagos, Sirika said the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration prioritises safety, hence the efforts made at procuring them even after 15 years of abandonment. The trucks are to be deployed to Lagos, Abuja, and Kano airports.

 Last line

The aviation industry is heavily challenged and needs hands on deck to uplift it higher than it is currently. The general consensus is that the aviation industry in the country had performed tremendously despite some of the challenges it faces.

 

Wole Shadare