The National Public Relations Officer, National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, Francis Igwe, in this interview with ANOZIE EGOLE, speaks on the challenges in the Nigerian aviation industry and the way forward
How would you assess the Nigerian aviation sector; are there things you think should have been done differently?
Yes. Every sphere of the economy is driven by government policies. Policies are the determinants of the economy, and the aviation sector is not an exception. So many persons are asking why so many airlines are coming on board and the fares are not coming down. All boils down to policies and our economy. The cost of aviation fuel is one of the major factors that determine the fare. Some people even asked why the airfare did not come own to N10,000 and I told them that one of the reasons is because of the aviation fuel; then the cost of spare parts and maintenance of aircraft. Most of the maintenance is not done here in Nigeria; hence foreign currency is involved. I cannot give you the actual cost of aviation fuel now, so that I won’t be misquoted. But I know that right now it is on the increase.
How competitive do you think the sector is, considering the number of airlines that have come on board?
Talking about competitiveness, usually, there is this slogan that the aviation industry in Nigeria is still a virgin land. It is a virgin in the sense that there are lots of spaces to accommodate any newcomer. One good thing is that there is standard here. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority does not compromise; so long as any person meets the requirement, we will give them the Air Operators Certificate.
What transpired between NCAA and Azman Air?
When certain occurrences continue repeating in operation, the authority has the right to suspend the operations for further investigation. I think that was what happened. When they were having issues with their tyres, landing gears and so many other things, they were suspended. After investigation and auditing, they were given back their AOC. In other not to undermine safety, NCAA has the right to suspend any airline it suspects that its safety is not guaranteed.
How competitive do you think these airlines are?
To the best of my knowledge, and humanly speaking, NCAA may like to do one or two things outside the door, but the airlines are complying. Whenever you disobey, there are punishments that must be followed to the letter. To me, earning your mark in the industry as an airline is all about individualism. A company may come out and decide to bring down its fares. The question is, if they are making progress or not. Our own is to maintain standards. Our slogan in NAAPE is, “We do it right for safety.” So our concern is to ensure they are doing it right, and are safety-complaint. So, whether they are making progress or not, their policies have nothing to do with NCAA.
Are there moves by air pilots and engineers to ensure that trained professionals come on board using the recent accident that involves the Chief of Army Staff at an example?
This question has two faces; one of the faces is the instance you mentioned about the COAS. I want to bring to your notice that the aircraft was purely military, which was managed by the Nigerian Air Force. As such, there is no civil interference; they have their standards on how to train their pilots. So it is beyond civil. Flying is the same thing. But so long as an aircraft is not registered with the NCAA, it does not have control over it. Remember, it is not possible for an airline to fly in Nigeria without registering with NCAA, but a military aircraft can do that because they (military) have their own inventory on how they keep their records. The aircraft is NAF-registered and not Nigeria-registered. So, whatever concerns military aircraft, NCAA has no interference in it. If you can remember, during the last crash, they involved the Accident Investigation Bureau, which is a civil body that carries out investigation on any serious aircraft incident. Now, NAF has employed AIB to do the investigation, but under normal circumstances, the AIB would not say it wants to investigate the incident.
Now, talking about adequate training, regulations have made it so mandatory in the aviation industry that before you renew your licence, there are some proficiency training certificates you must have as evidence that between the time the licence was renewed to when it is expiring, you performed certain tasks. It is another way of ensuring that you have done the basic training. For instance, for maintenance engineers, the licence expires every five years. So, it is expected that at least the last two years before that expiration, you would have done maintenance function and certain trainings for the renewal. Then for us at NAAPE, we ensure we are everywhere. As we speak now, we are negotiating with Cavetton Helicopter for our members, who have little issues to settle, and some of them boil down to training. We are trying to let them know that so long as you train the personnel, you will get the best out of them. So, the industry is so good that some of them are in autopilot rolling.
What areas in the sector do you think need improvement?
Yes, the minister granted duty waiver on aviation-related equipment in the past. But in practice we, as a union, are not sure if that directive is being obeyed. Such directives should be obeyed to the letter. So, with that, the issue of the cost of getting those materials when you pay heavily on should be like a relief to you. Duties should not be paid to any aviation or allied material that come into the country. That is the way to go. Then on the aviation fuel, we know we don’t refine oil here; we send our crude to be refined and we take it back. So, I will advise the government to, through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, reactivate our refineries. I believe that if the refineries are reactivated, some of these things will not be so expensive to procure, and when these things are at a minimal rate, they will equally affect airfare positively.
Foreigners’ interference in the industry is another challenge. The experience we are having is that the salary of one foreigner can pay that of two nationals because they believe they are expatriates. Many of them learnt the job here in Nigeria; they didn’t even have the competence before leaving their country, and you treat them like kings – pay for their accommodation, pay them salaries and allowances in dollars and all that – while we are paid in naira. There should be commensurate earnings between the expatriates and the nationals. I am not saying that we should be in the same level, but commeasurably. The much I know is that there is cordial relationship between the two.
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