Aviation sector in quest for Buhari’s change agenda
The present administration of President Mohammadu Buhari had assumed the mantle of leadership on the promise to effect changes in all sectors of the nation’s economy. The change mantra upon which the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration came into power was a ray of hope for many Nigerians and this has thus placed a huge burden on the administration to meet the high expectations of the populace.
Given Buhari’s famed integrity and sincerity, few people doubt his seriousness about bringing about the much desired positive change to all strata of the nation. From tackling corruption, youth unemployment, erratic power supply, educational collapse, and many other key sectors that would drive growth and propel the country to greatness.
However, one key sector in dire need of the wind of change is the aviation sector which has wobbled for decades, stunted by lack of strategic sector development master plan, policy summersault, frequent leadership changes, round-tripping, inadequate infrastructures, among others. Though, the aviation sector in Nigeria, according to experts, is not an infant industry, the sector has not been able to live up to the expectations of the founding fathers thus operating like a newly emerging industry.
The air transport industry in Nigeria, according to experts, dates back to the preindependence era in the 50s with the activities of the West African Airways Corporations (WAAC) which became the Nigeria Airways precisely in 1958. There was also the deregulation of the airline industry which brought about the formation of many private airlines including Okada Air, Omar Air, Albarka Air Services, Axiom Air, Bellview Airline, Sosoliso Airline, Capital Airlines, Chrome Air Services, Discovery Air, Dasab Airways, Sparrows Air, among others. According to experts, up to 30 private airlines have gone under up till today.
Some of the existing ones include Arik Air, Med View Airlines, Dana Air, Air Peace, Delta Airlines, Overland Airways, AZMAN, Aero Contractors, among others. According to the regulatory authority, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), there are 30 certified air operators, over 400 inservice aircraft registered in Nigeria. In addition, there are about 46 corporate jets, 130 helicopters and 100 foreign registered private jets.
However, experts express concerns that most of the airlines are confronted with serious financial challenges owing to debts which have made them to falter in meeting their monthly obligation to staff. The situation could be discerned from the frequent threats of industrial actions and protests by workers of some of the airlines.
All these and several factors combined have stymied the growth of the sector and prevented it from contributing significantly to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) according to experts. Unlike the situation in Nigeria, analysts believe aviation in other countries contributes a large percentage to the GDP. In fact aviation in many African nations is said to be performing optimally and contributing to the countries’ economies while reverse is the case in Nigeria.
No doubt there have been positive developments in the sector with the upgrading and construction of new airport terminals across the country, the country’s move to switch to the satellite navigation system under the Performance Based Navigation (PBN) being championed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), among other positive developments in the sector. Besides, the industry enjoys category 1 safety rating by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) However, experts say more need to be done to maximize the potentials of the sector. They stress the need for the development of a sound and holistic development plan, sustenance of the existing programmes and policies designed to propel the growth of the sector, as well as the appointment of a professional to man the aviation ministry.
Though a pilot, Capt. Hadi Sirika is one of the ministerial nominees confirmed last week by the Senate, it is unclear if President Mohammadu Buhari would assign him to man the Aviation Ministry. Experts say having a professional like him in that ministry is key to bringing about the requisite reform that would transform the sector and position it as a huge revenue earner for Nigeria.
An expert, Mr. Chris Aligbe urged the Federal Government to declare the aviation industry as an infant industry, while a tax holiday should be given to airlines to mature and develop. According to him, despite many years of existence, the aviation sector in Nigeria operates more like an infant industry. Therefore, government should tag the industry as such.
He said, “What I seek and sincerely recommend is that government should declare the airline industry an infant industry because in spite of 32 years of existence or thereabouts because the industry was deregulated in 1985/86 under IBB (Ibrahim Babangida administration) when private airlines came into existence and since then up to 32 of them (airlines) have collapsed. The major one, Nigeria Airways, government liquidated it unfortunately.
“There was no justification because at the time government was liquidating it, the assets of the airlines were three times more than the liability. If you have such a business, you see what you do with the assets to clear your liabilities and keep your business going.
As at today, our airline industry is in perpetual infancy, the industry as a whole, we are not where we should be in the airline sub - sector in the entire aviation sector, we are not where we should be. We have no world class airport in this country”.
Also speaking, Capt. Nuhudeen Abdulmumeen said he expects the President to bring a lot of change to the aviation industry, saying, “We are talking about change. There is a lot of change that needs to be worked on. You can talk about airline, when I talk about airline, the liquidity of the airlines having failed to deliver services on time”.
He added that the federal government should strive to enhance security at the airport and equally invest in training of aviation personnel as a measure to guarantee safety in the industry. “Airlines and organizations should be encouraged to continue training their staff because when you train one person, we are talking about in terms of safety and other areas, everything works in shape but people don’t invest money in training and re-training”.
As industry experts, stakeholders and air transport passengers await Buhari’s wind of change in the sector, it is expected that the anticipated change would be holistic and enduring towards addressing the multifarious challenges that have held back the sector from years immemorial.