Report… Nigeria’s aviation, a sector in need of makeover

Report… Nigeria’s aviation, a sector in need of makeover

In from Ali Smart . . .

The place of the aviation sector in Nigeria’s economy is very paramount, no doubt. But the irony, however, is that this is one sector that has suffered a lot of privations in recent times, in terms of funding gaps and infrastructural limitations among other myriads of challenges.

An instance of such infrastructural gap was a recent incident at the Bauchi Airport where passengers aboard a commercial flight belonging to Aero Contractors had to use a ladder to disembark from the plane.

Although it is against standard aviation practices prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to use ladder to disembark passengers, the airline had to resort to the use of the ladder as there were problems with unserviceable equipment by the airport management in disembarking the about 34 passengers.

Perhaps it is in realisation of the enormity of these challenges that informed the industry wide tour embarked upon last month by the Minister of Transportation, former Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi and his copilot, Captain Hadi Sirika under whose shoulders the aviation sector now rests upon.

In search of a master plan

For a sector that holds a lot of promise in terms of revenue generation and socioeconomic relevance to the nation, it has practically been managed, albeit, without a proper master plan.

Despite what the sector is required to contribute substantially to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) projection in the coming years, the policy gaps inherent in the system does not bode well for the country on the long run, critical stakeholders have said.

To many of the stakeholders, the aviation sector in a manner of speaking, is in dire need of a makeover and very fast too. And this is not to be handled with kid gloves or jobs for small fries for that matter.

One area that needs to be looked at according to some industry experts is airport security for obvious reasons.

Unlike what obtains presently where no one is clear on whose job it is to secure the airports, Group Captain John Ojikutu (Rtd) says this should be harmonised.

“There should be a review of the airport security architecture to define which agency is in charge of access control, to determine whether it is FAAN, the police, Nigeria Air Force or others? This has to be properly defined,” he said.

This becomes inevitable in view of clear and present dangers of terror threats facing airports globally.

Besides security, the other area which requires some measure of attention is the supply of aviation fuel, otherwise known as the Jet A1.

The Murtala Muhammed Airport corridor experts say, is a bedlam as hordes of fuel tankers laden with highly inflammable contents are always a regular fixture on the road, a development, which has implications for airport security and safety as a whole.

One way to address this anomaly, experts say, is to fix the fuel hydrants around the airport connected to the Mosimi Pipelines.

Other points to ponder

To get the sector back on an even keel, experts have suggested that the ministry of transportation should focus on massive airport and air navigation upgrade which has been long overdue just as they urged Amaechi and his deputy to ensure that the ongoing airport remodeling projects are completed rather than embarking on new projects.

Of significance according to industry watchers is the completion of the five international airport terminals being constructed in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu with the $500 million credit facility from the Chinese Export Bank.

Read also: Aero disembarks passengers using ladder

Completing these projects they say will upgrade airport facilities and enhance capacity at the terminals.

At the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, the new terminal is expected to increase passenger capacity from 15 million to over 30 million.

As Amaechi and Sirika step up measures to revamp the ailing aviation sector, experts have also advised that they should give debt recovery serious attention if they must succeed in their herculean task.

The current debt overhang running into billions of naira owed by domestic and foreign carriers as well as concessionaires, experts agree, can take the sector to the next level if fully recovered.

Local airline operators owe over N6billion in ticket sales charge alone as most of them hardly remit five percent ticket and cargo sales charge they collect on behalf of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

It is the view of stakeholders that the government will put policies in place to attract private sector investment, especially by reviewing existing conditions tied to the lease of land around the airports, which many players say is not only frustrating but a disincentive to investors.

Speaking in an interview, the chairman of Air Peace, Mr Allen Onyema said if government wants accelerated development of the sector it must impress on FAAN, the need to review its prohibitive charges on lease of airport land for domestic carriers that want to set up aircraft maintenance hangar.

Onyema says the current arrangement where FAAN expects a domestic airline to pay hundreds of millions for lease of airport land for a few years is a wrong model of how to attract investment into the aviation sector.

Apart from Air Peace, other airlines including Arik Air and Skyways Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL) have also accused the airport authority of not giving it land at the Lagos Airport.

Blessed assurance

Thankfully, in all appearances, Amaechi seems to have a good grasp of the situation judging by some of the steps he has taken thus far.

After a tour of facilities at the Lagos Airport, last month, he declared that the sector was in dire need of some serious surgical operation of sorts.

“The aviation industry in Nigeria has not been without its peculiar problems,” he said matter-of-factly, adding that his ministry will forge a synergy of cooperation with other quasi-governmental agencies to develop a workable master plan for the sector.

The ministry, Amaechi promised, will ensure strict compliance with all laws and regulations just as he assured that there will be no sacred cows.

But it remains to be seen whether Amaechi’s promises are mere platitudes or words that would galvanise action.

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