That the ministry of aviation seems to have no clue as to giving policy direction to the aviation sector has been particularly worrying that stakeholders are wont to conclude that nobody is in charge.
The sector, according to them, is in an intensive care unit and needs someone who is adept at handling delicate cases to attend to it and bring it back to life.
In the area of airport infrastructure, stakeholders are worried that very little has been done to complete most of the laudable projects started by the previous administration.
It would be recalled that 2011 the federal government embarked on airport infrastructure renewal to modernize the 22 airport terminals across the country.
Within two years, the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) at the local wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport was built; the Benin, Sokoto, Yola, Ilorin, Enugu, Owerri airport terminals, the international terminal at the Kano Airport with accompanying hajj terminal as well as a new GAT at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja with a hajj terminal were remodelled.
The Abuja Airport was rehabilitated in addition to the expansion of the international terminal at the Lagos Airport. Rehabilitation work at the airport terminals in Jos, Makurdi, Ibadan, Akure, Calabar were at advanced stages of completion; some of them were over 80 per cent completed before the previous administration left office.
But it seems government’s effort has come to naught as the contractors handling various construction projects at the 22 airports suspended work due to non-release of funds.
The only ongoing projects at the major airports are the four new terminals built by China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) under public-private partnership (PPP). The $500 million China’s Exim Bank terminals were originally due for completion between February and March 2016 but the completion time was rescheduled for the last quarter of the year. But that time is not even uncertain.
Stakeholders are also concerned about the protracted scarcity of aviation fuel or JET A1 which has led to incessant flights being delayed, rescheduled or cancelled. What is surprising about the acute shortage of the product is that it was deregulated, just as Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) commonly called diesel and Dual Purpose Kerosene (DPK). Yet, since the fuel scarcity that paralysed economic activities in the country, AGO has been available, whereas Jet A1, which now sells over N260 per litre, has been scarce. The development has taken the shine off air travel as airline passengers know when they buy the ticket but are unsure when the aircraft will fly them to their different destinations.
For a problem which persisted for many weeks, it was only recently that the federal government expressed concern about the plight of air travellers.
To assuage air passengers, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) issued a belated statement urging passengers to exercise caution while expressing their grievances as the airlines “are grappling with the challenges thrown up by the non- availability of Jet A1.”
“The Authority wishes to inform all passengers that it is well aware of the prevailing scarcity of Jet A1 which has inevitably led to flight cancellations and delays by the airlines.
“NCAA has also taken cognizance of concerted efforts being made by the airlines to ensure that all passengers are ferried without any hitches.
“The federal government is already engaging all the stakeholders involved with the procurement and distribution of aviation fuel to ensure availability in earnest,” said NCAA.
Besides, training of aviation personnel, both locally and overseas has been jettisoned despite repeated calls that training and re-training of personnel is sine qua non to the growth of the sector.
The National Air Traffic Controllers’ Association (NATCA), for instance, cried our recently that no fund had been provided for the training of its members.
Its president, Mr. Victor Eyaru has described the development as “scary” saying in the last three years no air traffic controller had been trained in radar control despite the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency’s (NAMA) commitment to the provision of 24 hours radar control services.
“Paucity of fund in the agency is slowing down timely renewal of facilities and training of core aviation professionals in statutory areas to ensure proficiency in air safety.
“ATCs form only 12 percent of the total staff strength of NAMA as opposed to 45 and 70 per cent for other sister organisation in some other countries. Only 40 out of 300 ATCs have been trained in Performance Base Navigation (PBN) thereby hampering its scheduled provision with effect from December 2012,” he said.
In other aviation parastatals like NCAA, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) and Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), training of staff has been halted.
In a highly technical agency like AIB, its commissioner, Dr. Felix Abali recently appealed to the federal government to exempt its technical personnel from the embargo placed on foreign training since 2015.
He explained that accident investigation is specialised area that requires special training that is only obtainable overseas.
Abali added that AIB needed to urgently meet the need for qualified personnel to take-over from the crop of ageing technical personnel whom he said had been engaged on contract after their retirement.
He said a lot of money is required for manpower development, mostly done overseas and added that paucity of funds had prevented the agency from carrying out its duties as a responsible accident investigator.
Analysts have also condemned the managers of the sector for committing blunders and being inconsistent. The signing of a bilateral air services agreement with Qatar readily comes to mind here. The deal paves the way for direct flights between major cities of both countries.
“The policy on multiple entry points into Nigeria as it is today is absolutely wrong and condemnable. It is robbery and by implication a breach of cabotage right. When will Nigeria begin to cherish its own for God’s sake? It is absolute erosion of domestic aviation. A foreign operator should have one point of entry into Nigeria. It could either be Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt etc and not both or all,” said the president of Aviation Round Table (ART), Mr. Gbenga Olowo
The former director general of NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren described the deal as “good politics for…Nigeria and the state of Qatar but bad for Nigerian economy” while he director of strategy at Zenith Travels, Mr. Olumide Ohunayo said “it clearly favours Qatar Airways to detriment of our own carriers.”
Ohunayo described activities in the sector as “snail-like” saying the ministry’s response and disposition to issues on the ground has not reflected the fire brand change promised and anticipated in the industry.
“Starting with the promises, we were expecting a reduction in the number of civil aircraft in the presidential fleet which was to address the huge operational expenses and save the government funds expended on the luxury services. That has not happened.
“They also told us that the national carrier project was non-negotiable and a committee was hurriedly put in place. But thereafter, we were told the national carrier is not an immediate priority, while also closing the doors of an alternate option of building national airlines from the troubled private carriers
“We are also expecting a clinical appraisal and restructuring of the agencies and associated manpower that has tilted politically at the expense of professionalism due to some inappropriate appointments and promotions noticed in the past.
Summing up the management of the aviation sector, Olowo said: “Nigeria and managers of our agencies are very clever. We do know how to pass examinations. How I wish that translates into efficient and optimal service delivery. Motion does not necessarily translate to activity neither does programme translate to progress. Go to all the airports in the country and see how you score the toilets, passenger processing, one hour or more long traffic from airport toll gate to the terminal building without serious security process, very hot, rowdy and not too sanitized environment, so many check points…chaotic and oven arrival halls, etc.
One can go on and on with a long list of dissatisfaction and disaffection at our airports. Of what use therefore is passing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) CAT 1? Thanks for passing in any case but please let’s see the effect of the passing save for the Nigerian registered aircraft to operate to the United States.”