BUSINESS Air transport would be cheaper, if... - Rector
What does the birth of Ilorin Aviation College portend for the country?
We have contributed, we have put in nine pilots, licensed commercial pilots in the industry, several private pilot licences (PPLs) because we don’t count that as a full commercial pilot and, interestingly, if you remember on the graduation day, all of them have been employed because the system just sucked them up. We have so many foreign pilots. We are not against pilots coming from all over the world because as a professional the pilot can fly anywhere. But there should be a capacity building for the youths in Nigeria, for Nigeria to invest in its youths and investment in its youths is an opportunity for a better country. Every pilot you trained, you are making the society and that individual to be responsible to at least 10 people in this country. So it is not only pilot, we have flight dispatchers, we have cabin crew, we have engineers, maintenance engineers, we have other related courses. Everyone you look at the peak, they are ageing and people are not building. So airlines were poaching from one airline to the other. When you finish poaching and there is nothing to poach again, you have no choice than to start calling expatriates into this. We had a problem initially of having experienced young Nigerians who want to become flight instructors, the ones we started with were four, they have never been taught with Diamond Aircraft. Right now, as I am talking to you, Kwara State, through the International Aviation College, Ilorin, we have seven Nigerian youths in South-Africa and all of them would be here before the middle of May and all of them would be working here. So totally we would be having 10 Nigerian pilots as instructors. You can come, if you find a foreigner, it is may be because of his experience but not because we cannot find instructors. We have stopped that.
What are the challenges confronting the institution?
The major problem is financing, aviation is not cheap. That is why the last time we met the governor, last year, he said we need to be on our own this year, we thought he was joking. He said the government is not in the business of running business, it is in the business of facilitating an enabling environment. Kwara State has done what it could do in creating this enabling environment by building the school, facilitating the school. He is saying that if it is equipment, yes, if it is budgeted,
Captain AbdulMumeen Nuhu Abdulkareem, Rector of the Ilorin International Aviation College, is an experienced pilot who holds the Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL), the highest pilot licence in the world. He trained in America in 1981 and has been a pilot for 32 years. He worked in several places among which are Nigerian Airways, Sky power Express Airways, and Nigeria College of Aviation Technology, Zaria as Chief Flight Instructor. In this interview with Captain Abdulkareem speaks on sundry issues in aviation industry and the aviation college in Ilorin. Excerpts:
they can assist us in buying equipment. And right now the state government is looking to disinvest in this college. From January 2014 till date, what we make, we are eating. We don’t get a kobo from the state government in terms of subvention to pay salary or to pay for services. But for equipment, I will run back to His Excellency, through my board and say, ‘please buy me more equipment’ and I have to justify that, how? By telling him that I am having these intakes and they are going to pay me, so, so, so amount, you understand me? Ordinary man on the street might not see the value but there is a value. Kwara State has become what it has become recently by taking this big step. We have some other places, some other states, even the Federal Government sending people outside the country with thousands and thousands and hundreds of dollars to train as pilots, bring that money into Nigeria, see what the Nigeria Air Force did, that is what we call corporate responsibility and I hope every state government or every corporate body be it aviation, be it individual or whatever, the well to do in our society should contribute, sponsor one student, even if it is two per private pilot license (PPL), which is less than N2m. To be a commercial pilot is N7.8m. Ideally, the bank should give students loan, give them a soft way of paying, let’s say a year after they graduate and start working. The bank can work with the worker’s employer, we can even facilitate for him to get employment and he will be paying monthly. It is done all over the world. In Nigeria, nobody will give you N10million without asking for N30m in two years or three years. The system is to the advantage of the youth, the advantage of education. That is capacity building and that is what we should be doing for the youth.
How will you describe the Nigeria’s aviation sector?
It is under-utilised. I see no reason why somebody would be driving from Kano to Lagos if he is not on vacation. If the system works, it would be cheaper to fly by air than going by road. It would be cheaper. Look at low cost carrier in Europe; can you say you would be driving to Switzerland from London? With 50 pounds, you can go to Switzerland. And with 50 pounds, you cannot fuel your car to go to Switzerland.
Are you saying it should be subsidised?
No, we are not asking for subsidy. The question is that if the system works properly, the investment is there. I am not asking for subsidy. If the investment is there, air transport will be cheaper. There is a policy that tricks my mind I don’t even know how to explain it. The government gives waiver for airlines to bring spareparts and aircraft without custom duty. I bring airplanes to train the manpower that would fly in that airline, I pay duty. As a training organisation we pay duty, they say we are not part of that waiver. I don’t understand the transformation agenda of the Federal Government. How much is the aircraft? Now the airlines are getting intervention fund, nobody is thinking how to train those people, intervention fund to carry our money to go out because every aeroplane you buy, of course the money goes out. But for every training I do in this country, 70 per cent, 80 or 99 per cent of that money remains in this country. The only time that money goes out is when I am buying equipment because we don’t produce aeroplane in this country. If aircraft is produced and assembled in this country, we would buy it but government should look into training organisations and give them waiver on importation of aircraft. We are not saying government should give you intervention but government should facilitate access to loans that are soft with moratorium. Whether it is oversight, I don’t know, but the government really short changes capacity building because if government is fair and just in its transformation agenda, policy makers should look at giving air training organisations a waiver. Money is going into South Africa daily. I just came back from South Africa, I just employed seven Nigerian pilots who are just going to do training there as instructors. Do I need to? I can employ my own products, I can employ products from Zaria or from any other school that is based in Nigeria, we can share our own manpower here, but the environment is against training organisations in aviation industry. We don’t have problem with the regulators because we are all professionals, we must follow the regulations. There is difference between the NCAA regulation and enabling environment by the government.
A lot of people are clamouring for the resuscitation of Nigerian Airways, what is your advice in this regard?
I came back to Nigeria just because I was employed by the Nigerian Airways in 1985. A lot of things killed the Airways but I will not talk on behalf of the Airways or the policy makers then. But we all know that government agency of that magnitude becomes like Father Christmas to the government. When government pays for goods and services to that organisation probably it would last longer. Air France is there, Lufthansa is there, they might be struggling, Swiss Air is there, they are all backed by government, Italia is there, currently now, Emirate and Qatar, Air Malaysia, Air Singapore, they are there, Air Ethiopia. Tell me what is there in Ethiopia apart from the airline. Do you know how much revenue they are making, they have 787, the latest Boeing aircraft, and they are a Boeing centre. Ethiopia Airline has never folded up. The maintenance standard has never been folded up. It is to be honest and put the policy that would last, that is it. Nigeria should try and build something that would last. I am not a politician, I am a technocrat, people should think beyond now or the leader. Forget if it is my enemy that is building an airline in this country so long as that airline is for the benefit of Nigerian public and to the humanity.
What prospect do you envisage for aviation training in Nigeria?
We look forward for people to come in. We are going into Engineering. KWASU (Kwara State University) is doing aerospace and aeronautical engineering and NCAA has given us a blueprint on how to integrate ourselves so that an aerospace engineer from KWASU would come out with aircraft maintenance engineer licence, a pilot from International Aviation College would come out with KWASU’s degree in aviation management as a pilot. So, it is a win-win situation for KWASU, for us and the industry. Nobody is losing, everybody is gaining.