With the level of infrastructure development, qualified staff and efficiency at their disposal, which have contributed to attainment of quality service delivery, BIODUN AKOMOLAFE reports that helicopter operators urged the federal Government to provide them the enabling environment for the sustenance of the aviation industry in the country.
The aviation industry in Nigeria is undergoing a transformation which may see helicopter operators getting stronger while airlines operating fixed wing aircraft get weaker by day. However, the helicopter operators said there is the need for more conducive operating environment for them and the entire industry to achieve more .
In 2009 there were over 10 airlines registered to operate scheduled domestic services with fixed wing aircraft while there were just five airlines operating helicopters services in the country
Aero, Arik, Afrijet, Air Nigeria, IRS, Dana, Chanchangi, Associated, Landover and Belview airlines were some of the airlines operating scheduled and chartered flights with fixed aircraft while Aero, Bristol, Caverton, AOS and Pan-Africa helicopters operate their services with rotary aircraft .
Today while only three of those airlines operating fixed aircraft remain in full operations, all the rotary aircraft operators are waxing stronger.
The four major airlines operating fixed wing aircraft or helicopter services in the country are Bristol, Caverton, Aero and Pan African airlines.
Though the helicopter operators have 90 per cent of their businesses in the oil and gas sector, but there are indications that should they continue with the transformation they are bringing into their services, they may soon send those airlines operating scheduled passenger services out of business.
One of the reasons given for the success of the helicopter operators, was the level of infrastructural facilities they could boast of. While it is no longer a disputed fact that Aero and Bristol helicopters could each boast of state- of –the- art maintenance facilities, where they carry out maintenance of their aircraft in the country, most of the fixed wing aircraft operators do not have maintenance facilities where they could carry out maintenance.
Speaking on the maintenance facilities at the disposal of Aero Air, Managing Director of the airline, Captain Akin George recently during a media tour of the facilities both in Lagos and Port Harcourt, told journalists that the airline has capacity to carry out C-Checks not only on rotary but on fixed aircraft. He said the airline has gotten certification to carry out C-Checks, even on third party aircraft.
Aero which claimed to have between 30 and 35 per cent of the market share of the services provided in the oil and gas sector by helicopter operators in the country also claimed that it has strongly embarked on staff training both at local and international levels.
George, who noted that that lack of indigenous personnel who would take over the industry has become a thing of great concern in the industry, disclosed that Aero Air has embarked on massive training of aviation personnel both at local and international levels.
The Aero Chief Executive Officer claimed that the airline could fly higher in those areas, if supported by the federal government through appropriate policies that would provide the enabling environment to sustain not only the airlines, the maintenance facilities but the entire industry.
“The government needs to create an enabling environment which has not only to do with the airline themselves but also has to do with the regulatory bodies. If the environment is there, then we need to just do our jobs in the rest of the areas,” said George.
He added that “Aero contractors has a maintenance division and they have their own licence. It is over a year now and we have licence to do checks up to C-check. We have not actually carried out our first C-check in-country yet basically because we are behind schedule on certain items. One of the things we said we were going to do before we do the first C-check is to extend our hangar, and we are behind schedule on that project.
We are still going to complete the extension of the hangar before the end of the year. So, we will be announcing to the public when our first C-check is done in-house. We do have the capability, we have the man-power, we have the equipment and we have the shops. We do third-party work for other customers. We are the only airline in Nigeria that can build their own wheels, tyres and brakes; everybody else has to send their tyres abroad.
The ECOWAS commission is also interested in why there is no maintenance organisation on the West Coast. Obviously, there are AMOs in South Africa, East Africa and North Africa. But if you look at the West African sub-region there is none and at this point in time we are the only airline in the West African sub-region that has that approval.
Also speaking in the same tone, the Managing Director and Head of African Business Unit of Bristol Helicopters Nigeria Limited Mr. Akin Oni at a separate media chat with aviation correspondents in Lagos, disclosed that his airline has all that it takes to carry D-Checks on helicopters. Besides, he said that the airline has personnel who handle assembling as well as all levels of maintenance on helicopters.
The Captain who also said that the company was committed towards delivering a qualitative service to its client urged the Federal Government to help reduce the burden suffer by the airlines operators in the area of taxes and levies in the country stressing that it was too much for them to bear.
According to him,”If you import an aircraft, you spend 14 per cent as import duties to the government which is about N4milliom dollars for just importing an aircraft. We are one amongst many other countries that enforce such law; the same apply to spare parts. In President Obasanjo time, it was removed and we pray that it should be removed because it is killing us, it is killing the aviation industry. If all these taxies and levies are waved, it will greatly improve the aviation sector and boost the country.
He further noted that Bristow Helicopters has greatly increased its local content in the airline adding that by the 2015, the company hopes to have about 90 percent of its staff in the top management position from Nigeria.
“In 2015, we hope to change at least 90 percent of our staff to become Nigerian both in the management level, engineers as well as in other department. Currently, we are training six pilots in Florida in the USA and another six more pilots will be joining them in a next couple of weeks, so we are really training Nigerians to take Bristow Helicopters and that is what local or Nigerian content is all about,” he said.
On the cost of training, he said” we spend $250,000 to train one pilot so if you put six pilots together, we should be talking about 1.5 million dollars but basically we spend about 6 to 7 million dollars per annual on training”
While the duo of George and Oni believed that the problem of having hangar where D-Checks could be carried out on fixed aircraft was not a problem of knowledge but the enabling environment, they both called on government to devote more attention to the issue of taxes and charges imposed on the industry for it to survive and be able to play its expected roles towards the realization of the vision 2020.