Airlines operators have continued lament Nigeria’s difficult business environment, due to lack of sufficient infrastructure, multiple taxation among other challenges bedeviling them.
At the 27th League of Airports and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC) annual conference held in Lagos, with theme, “Aviation Industry: Changing Times, Changing Strategies”, the focus was on how airlines can be supported to make more profit.
The chairman of LAAC, Olusegun Koiki, who gave the opening address, said: “Irrespective of divergent views held by stakeholders on the industry’s operating environment, safety standards and regulation, airline operations, airports management, airspace administration, manpower development, Jet A1 pricing and supply, ground handling and other issues, one thing is very clear, we are in changing times and we cannot do the same thing over and over same way and keep expecting a different result. We definitely need to change our strategies for aviation development, especially in the 21st century and under a new administration. The century is almost a quarter gone!
“This year’s conference was informed by the emerging changes in approach to aviation business as regards technology, manpower development and training, airline management and operations, financing and other aspects of the aviation industry. It is obvious, the global aviation industry will be determined by three factors in the next 77 years: a global market, sustainability, and transformative technologies. The global market is not only a driver because of where planes are flying, but also because of where companies, manufacturers, and supply chains are located.
“Sustainability of the aviation industry is going to be a major driver in the years to come. This is sustainability in terms of the environment and climate change, which the world is already battling with. Transformative technologies will be a major force for the industry and it will be very fast-moving and markets will have to contend with how to integrate them and how to do it quickly. We definitely need to do things differently if we expect Nigeria’s aviation industry to realise its full potential in Africa and the world, a feat that the location of the country has already positioned it to achieve, but for avoidable human factors. No local aviation sector.
“The air traveler or passenger is a very critical stakeholder in Nigeria’s aviation industry. Unfortunately, many failures in performance recorded by players such as poor airports infrastructure and flight cancellations and delays without compensation in line with regulations are products of a downplay of interest of the flying public, which boomerang on the image of the aviation industry in Nigeria. This is not exactly how aviation works in other climes today. You would agree with me that we definitely need to do things differently. Times have changed. We must change our strategies.
Experts proffer solutions
Immediate past president of the Aviation Round Table, Dr. Gbenga Olowo, put part of the blame for the failure of the airlines on the operators themselves, saying; “I have a major problem with the airlines. If the path to your destination is blocked, then change your direction. In this country, our airlines fail every 10 years and in the past 50 years, we keep having new airlines that come onboard and end up repeating the cycle of the failed airline. I will say that 60 percent of the cause of failed airlines is attributed to the government, while 40 percent is attributable to the airlines themselves.
“The government has said they do not have confidence in Nigerian airlines, then they give them red routes. If I fly a route for three months and I don’t make it, I will quit. Air Peace wanted to fly London but the government said it didn’t have the capacity, instead they were given routes like Israel and China. Our airlines should learn not to repeat the errors of the past.”
While Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), who moderated the panel, said it is wrong for the Federal Government to give foreign airlines multiple destinations and that one of the ways in which domestic airlines can be helped to maximise profit is if foreign airlines are limited to only one destination.
A former Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Roland Iyayi, said one of the ways airlines can be helped is if it improves infrastructure at the airports.
“For us to change things in the industry, we have to clean house. Aviation is a safety critical industry which requires that we are proactive, unfortunately, we are reactive. We have a situation where appointments are made as political patronage. In terms of infrastructure, so many things need attention. For instance, the Abuja runway is under utilised, in Lagos, the airports are congested and the infrastructure is decaying. If the terminal that was to be given to Nigeria Air was given to domestic terminals, things would have been much easier. One of the many ways in which domestic airlines can be helped is if adequate infrastructure is put in place at the airports,” he said.
The current MD of NAMA, Tayib Odunowo, said: “There is light at the end of the tunnel. It is unfortunate that the dollar affects every sector of our economy, most especially airline operations. When the dollar rate increases, it would affect every aspect of operations, even ticketing. In NAMA, we are making efforts to ensure the entire ecosystem is working. One of the challenges that we have in NAMA is skilled manpower and it is the same challenges that four successive governments have had. When I talk to pilots, they say it is the problem. Some even say that we are too expensive but it is some of the things that we are looking into. Part of our strategy for improvement is our Nigerian Aviation Digitalistation and Automation project to digigtalise and modernise the airspace.”
The Director General of the Nigeria Safety Investigation Bureau, Akin Olateru, advocated for training and re-training of staff, saying that no organisation can make profit with staff who lack capacity. He said; “Organisations must priotise training their workforce and also the workers who are being trained must take advantage of the training. In one of the trainings the Federal Government sponsored in Harvard, a director in one of the aviation agencies who attended, slept almost throughout and that was a $19,000 training. Every person has to take training very seriously because when you retire from, you would have to do some form of business to earn a living and you need the skills.
“We should not take these things for granted. Even the airlines need to always train and retrain their staff because before you talk of making profit, you first have to make sure that you have very competent staff with capacity that can deliver results.”
The Director General, Nigeria Civil Aviation Agency (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu, who was represented by the Director of Airworthiness, Gbolahan Abatan, said: “The topic of this year’s discourse is very apt on account of outstanding changes and paradigm shift in our nature and approach to aviation business vis-a-vis technology, airline management and operations, financing and other aspects of the aviation industry. The industry is battling with a string of challenges ranging from regulatory, institutional and structural challenges; on the other hand the industry is expected to experience significant improvements in areas of safety, security, technology, development infrastructure, airline management and operations among others.
“Hence, to provide for an effective legal and institutional framework for a virile and prosperous aviation in Nigeria and ensure that her obligations under international aviation agreements are implemented in conformity with the standards and recommended practices set by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), in Y2022, the Civil Aviation Act (CAA) 2022 was assented by (now former) President Muhammadu Buhari.
“We are beginning to see operators moving away from poor choice of aircraft, poor or bad route planning and operating models. Following the outbreak of the devastating pandemic which almost brought humanity to its knees, many Nigerian airline operators cutting across established and new entrants are appreciating the economics or intrinsic benefits of operating newer and narrow-body aircraft or single-aisle aircraft like Boeing 707, Boeing 727, Boeing 737, Boeing 757, Airbus A320 and Embraer E-Jet families as their immediate recovery and survival strategy. This is linked to prohibitive cost of fuelling, management and maintenance of larger aircraft.
“Even though the phenomenon of delays is global, we are poised to minimize the number of delays to the simplest minimum. Synergy, collaboration, cooperation or merger is the rule of the game. I want to encourage Nigerian airlines to avoid I-want-to-do-it-alone as reflected in their lone-wolf operational tactic. While I want to appreciate our operators for a job well done in terms of the spirit and the impact, we urge airlines to partner with their willing foreign counterparts through code sharing in developing Nigeria’s aviation industry. I remember that at a phase Air France interlined with Aero Contractors. By nature and approach we should manifestly embrace collaboration and exhibit sustained commitment lest average Nigerian carriers become ever more fragmented and less competitive with mere individual identities.
The Director General, Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) Prof. Mansur Matazu, who was represented by Mr. Effiom Oku, said; “Sustaining the industry requires that all stakeholders within and outside the industry play critical roles that are not only patriotic but that will not sabotage socio-economic development of the industry and the nation at large. It requires patriotism, honesty, integrity, and diligence of public and private institutions including national and international Stakeholders. We have learnt by COVID experience that the industry is highly dynamic, vulnerable, fast-paced in terms of changing technology, and thus require forward thinking initiatives and policies to keep up with success. “The industry therefore requires strategic long-term planning and innovations in relation to aviation business or economics, manpower management and competencies, infrastructure development, airline management, airport operations, Public-Private Sector financing, airport security, safety of lives and property among many others. Hence, the theme for this year’s annual conference is very apt.
“NiMet is critical to the establishment, operations, and development of airports by providing climatic and weather observations, weather predictions and continuous atmospheric monitoring for alerts and warnings. NiMet provides round-the-clock weather information that are critical for airport development e.g., wind rose; and safety of air navigation which includes weather information for take-off and landing, enroute, destination and alternate airports. Our personnel are highly skilled, competent, and re-trained regularly to provide aeronautical meteorology services. For every flying person, the services of the Agency must have been consumed albeit behind the scenes. We have invested and continue to invest in facility upgrades to promote efficiency of our operations. Our briefing rooms have been equipped and access to aeronautical weather information has been improved through automation.”
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace, Dr. Emmanuel Meribole, who was represented by the Director, Air Transport Management, Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace, Hassan Ejibubu, said; “It is a matter of fact that aviation is global and events are evolving at a fast speed particularly since the beginning of the twenty-first century. Nigeria, as a country, will continue to work to ensure that it aligns herself with global best practices and implementation of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO’s) Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs).