Nigeria needs aviation sector ready for business
In 2018, cargo airlines across the world earned $111.3 billion as revenue—the highest since 2004, Statista said. Though this declined to $102.4 billion in 2019, it represented substantial revenue for the global aviation industry.
Amid challenges faced by airlines resulting from COVID-19, cargo traffic is outperforming passenger traffic, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The association expects cargo revenue to grow by 8 percent in 2020 versus a 61 percent slump for passenger revenue. China Airlines’ cargo revenue rose by 153 percent in May 2020, with Evergreen Airways, a Taiwan
ese international airline, having a revenue surge of 161 percent in the same month. However, Nigeria is not in the party.
Thirteen airports designated as perishable cargo airports in the country are still not operating as such, despite promises from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to leverage it to transform the aviation sector into a major revenue earner for the country since 2013. Growth and jobs are lost as a result, worsened now by COVID-19.
Air transport GDP sharply declined by 57.38 percent in second quarter (Q2) 2020 from 5.68 percent in Q1 2020 and 12.31 percent in Q2 2019.
“There is much we can take through cargo and we are particularly looking at agricultural products that can arrive in Europe the next day fresh, which is the crux of this. For our Zero Oil Plan, we have identified 22 products Nigeria can sell. The aim is to promote Nigeria goods and find market to sell them and our ‘One State, One Product’ plan is key to this, meaning each state of the country will give us one product that we can market, package and export,” Segun Awolowo, executive director, Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), who spoke at a webinar meeting held recently at the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Aviance, said.
“The country is blessed and yet we are still fixated on oil. We must put more money into non-oil exports. We spend millions of dollars drilling for oil and most times we come up with naught, but we do not invest in the non-oil sector,” Awolowo said.
Stressing on the need for export to be promoted to grow the nation’s economic diversity as well as lift people out of poverty, Jimi Adebakin, chief executive of FBO Global Logistics Limited, also charged the government to encourage low income exporters.
“If we put the same energy we put in importation and exportation, nobody can touch us. There is a new possibility we can move 20 tons in cargo daily, but with the right awareness, we ought to be moving 100 tons daily. What is 100 tons? It is 60 trailers, and how many trailers do you see coming from the East or the North to Lagos?” he asked.
All the airlines are struggling in the face of traveller apathy, high cost of operations, and COVID-19 health concerns. Air Peace with over 120 flights pre-coronavirus now has 20 flights. Yet it has a workforce of over 3,000 but faces multiple taxes that are not easing out amid the pandemic.
In view of these realities, Air Peace had to painfully lay off 69 pilots and Bristow Helicopters sacked 100 pilots. Other airlines have also had to review the salaries being paid to staff.
While airlines wait for the ‘bounce back’ period, operators and airports authorities are however faced with the reality of responding to the impacts of the pandemic by finding best ways to mitigate costs.
Investment in airports infrastructure and facilitation of cargo exports have been identified as pathways to speed up the recovery process for the airlines and the airports.
Stakeholders and airline operators have continued to lament poor infrastructure upgrades at airports across Nigeria, which affects their output and number of staff they are able to employ.
They allege that despite the multiple charges, many of the airports in the country do not have runway lights and navigation al landing aids, which mean such airports are only open between 7am and 6pm daily.
“To this end, airlines can’t fully utilise their airplanes for 24-hour operations. No airplane or factory machine can be profitable only from 7am to 6pm daylight operations,” Nogie Meggison, chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), noted.
Meggison therefore called for the provision of airfield lighting and navigational landing aids at all airports in Nigeria to reduce delays and cancellations, and allow for 24-hour operation and better utilisation of airplanes.
In Nigeria, passengers spend unduly long time at security screening points because of insufficient number of X-ray machines. Passengers are forced to queue at security screening points, especially at peak hours.
In other climes, it takes between 30 seconds to two minutes to get screened but in Nigerian airports, it takes between five and 15 minutes to get screened, depending on the number of passengers waiting to be checked.
Air Peace and Arik Air face a lot of delays processing passengers at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, because there is only one functional X-ray machine at any point in time and hundreds of passengers going to different destinations during the morning rush hours must pass through one functional X-ray machine at each of the terminals at the GAT.
John Ojikutu, member of aviation industry think tank group, Aviation Round Table (ART), and chief executive of Centurion Securities, listed some of the infrastructural gaps that cause flight delays at Nigerian airports to include inadequate checking- in-counters; inadequate passengers screening checkpoints and screening machines or unserviceable screening machines resulting in manual screening; inadequate aircraft boarding gates; inadequate aircraft parking areas; inadequate ground handling equipment or facilities, and absence of taxiways or sufficient links from aprons to runways.
Ojikutu stressed that inadequate skilled manpower to man most of these facilities or systems can cause delays, especially the passengers screening checkpoints. The International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) recommended standard is at least five but Nigerian airports have two or three persons.
Other factors he mentioned include poor airspace management; inadequate and inexperience air traffic controllers, particularly for aerodromes and approach control, among others.
Experts have said one of the ways to make a country an aviation hub, whether cargo or passenger, is to first address its airport infrastructure in bid to attract big airlines to fly in and out of the airport.
Ado Sanusi, CEO of Aero Contractors, said with the right airport infrastructure Nigeria could grow passenger traffic by 10 million yearly.
“In Nigeria, we have the flying public, so we can still cultivate more and grow passenger traffic to 10 million per annum. This is achievable, but we must make sure we have the infrastructure so that when they enter the airport they will be happy with what they see. We must also have the confidence of the flying public so that they will feel comfortable flying our airlines,” Sanusi said
Nnaji Nnolim, chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, suggested that a 10-year development plan should be created for aviation infrastructure upgrade in Nigeria.
“FAAN and other agencies remit 25 percent IGR to Federal Government and we are asking that instead of remitting the 25 percent to Federal Government, they can create a consolidated account where this 25 percent will be remitted into and form a committee and from that 25 percent, they do a 10-year developmental plan, where they can list projects that they can do for 10 years. If you look at it, you will see that one of the problems we are having is that when a particular MD comes in, he will want to do a project and by the time he leaves and another MD comes in, the person will want to do another project,” Nnolim said.