Stakeholders strategise to fix aviation, Buhari plans privatisation

Prex Porbeni

Lead discussant, Sam Akerele (left); Representative of the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Commodore H.E. Eze; NAAPE president, Isaac David Balami; Chairman of the occasion and former Rector, Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, Kaduna, Captain Bayo Araba and lead discussant, aviation stakeholders committee chairman and a civil aviation consultant, Captain Perekemi Prex Porbeni; at the one-day aviation stakeholders forum, organised by the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE); in Lagos. PHOTO: IBE UWALEKE

It was a full house on Tuesday at the annex headquarters of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Lagos, where aviation stakeholders from the agencies, Customs, Nigeria Air Force, Immigration, Clearing and forwarding companies, Aviation Round Table, unions and associations, pilots, engineers, air traffic controllers, professionals of different operations in the industry, journalists and other interest groups, brainstormed to identify the problems of Nigerian aviation and to chart the way forward.

The platform was the annual stakeholders forum of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE). While the stakeholders were strategizing to position Nigerian aviation to an enviable height in order to contribute meaningfully to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the President, Muhammadu Buhari in far away Washington DC, USA, named aviation as one of the sectors he is asking American business men and women to come and invest as he plans to privatize the industry.

He spoke at a forum organized by the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry as part of his visit to the country. Perhaps the President was responding to the poor state of affairs in the Nigerian aviation industry which is contributing less than one per cent to the country’s GDP due to alleged poor management and implementation of approved policies to improve the sector.

But back home, stakeholders identified government overbearing influence and policy somersault as major problems that have slowed down the development of the country’s aviation industry. In a paper delivered by a veteran aviator and a member of Aviation Round Table (ART), Sam Akerele, titled: ‘Issues in Nigerian Flight Safety Environment: An overview’, he identified why domestic airlines can’t grow and the reason why they are bugged down with debts.

His word: “Government killed the domestic airlines when it allowed international airlines to enter and operate from all the international airports Nigeria has which are in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, PortharCourt and Enugu.

This is not how it is done in other climes where they allow only one entry point to give opportunity for their local airlines to distribute the international passengers to other airports within their countries. But this is not the case in our own country where ‘Peter is robbed to pay Paul”.

Going further, Akerele said, for the country to continue to savour the atmosphere of safety, the aviation agencies must continue to emphasise on training and retraining of their technical staff.

He however regretted that no airport in Nigeria has been certified fit and licensed by the regulatory authorities, a situation that has pushed up the insurance premium the airlines pay.

On security, he opined that adequate security should go beyond providing perimeter fences, but should include deploying technology for proper surveillance of the airports’ environment. In other words, according to him, NCAA should apply the sanctions on sister agencies like FAAN, NAMA, NiMet, AIB and NCAT when they renege in their statutory responsibilities.

Akerele advocated for the scrapping of the ministry of aviation and asked government to have one ministry of transport that will over see the aviation industry.

He also suggested that Nigeria should be discouraged to float a national carrier, but instead develop several flag carriers. In his own contribution, another lead discussant, Captain Adeyemi Dare, who spoke on the topic: “Liberalism and Protectionism- Whither Nigerian National Interest: An Aviation Sector Perspective”’ examined the Yamoussoukro agreement for open sky in Africa’s airspace and concluded that Nigeria’s interest was not served in that decision.

Discussing in similar vein, Captain Prex Porbeni, a civil aviation consultant and the committee chairman for policy documentation of the forum, accused the NCAA for strangulating the domestic airlines through policy implementation which seems to protect foreign airlines’ interest more than local airlines.

According to him, Nigeria has a legion of policies, but what it requires is a turn around of mentality in order to rescue the aviation industry adding that liberalism of the open sky must stop where Nigeria’s interest of growing domestic airlines begins.

Also in his own contribution, the representative of the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Commodore H.E. Eze revealed that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is also involved in air regulation and airworthiness of aircraft, adding that his Force has for the past six years established a repair hangar he hoped with time it would graduate into an MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) hangar so they would not be taking their aircraft abroad for maintenance.

Group Captain John Ojikutu (Rtd), in his own reaction urged NCAA to wield the big stick when it can to stop the excesses of some airlines.

The former director general of NCAA, Bola Akinkuotu while responding to the accusations levied on NCAA, said the problem is not with the agency, but the operators who prefer to bend the rules and refuse to comply with the laws. He assured the audience that the situation is changing for the better.

NAAPE president, Isaac David Balami, an engineer, in his opening remark thanked the participants and said the forum was to provide opportunity for stakeholders to jaw-jaw and find solution to Nigeria’s aviation problem.

The one-day event was chaired by a former Rector of Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, (NCAT), Zaria, Captain Bayo Araba.

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