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Monday, 31 December 2012 00:00
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Aviation in Nigeria cruises into stormy weather

• The new General Aviation Terminal (GAT), Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. Inset: Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah and former Nigeria Airways aircraftWhile the Minister of Aviation Princess Stella Oduah had on her assumption of office in 2012 prescribed some perceived right antidotes for the ailing aviation industry in Nigeria, but the diversionary moves from different quarters within and outside the industry, brought a lot of avoidable embarrassments  to aviation in the year BIODUN AKOMOLAFE writes that if care is not taken and the trend is allowed to dovetail  into the coming year, all the safety measures already put in place to rescue the industry may just be in futility.

AT  the beginning of 2012 flight for aviation industry in Nigeria, the flight was cleared for a good take off. The en-route weather situation was declared perfect for the trip just as the destination weather condition was clearly stated as good and Clementine enough for good landing approach. Off the flight went. But few minutes into the flight a technical issue emanated rather than taking the precaution of using the safety opportunities provided by the alternative airports earlier filed by the pilot, he decided to exhibit a cowboy style.

Emergency was declared and within a twinkle of an eye the Pilot shouted may day may day and the aircraft went off radar. The traffic controller presses the red button and search and rescue operation was declared. It would be a great miracle if there would be any soul rescued alive.

The foretasted was the situation of the Nigeria aviation industry in the outgoing year, 2012.

The situation of the aviation industry cannot but be regarded as a good one for the country despite its good take off situation. With two crashes that rubbished all the good recoreds the nation had maintained for four consecutive years.

The accidents no doubt exposed the hidden leprosy and epilepsy the nation had kept secret from the rest of the aviation world.

It was not that the other nations in the aviation world was not aware of the Nigerian situation but the have to act like a goat rear in market place, they have to endure our situation for their own survival knowing  well that they need to activate their immune system to get out uninfected.

The minister had in the first phase of the addressing the decayed infrastructure issue in the industry by standing against all odd and awarded the rehabilitation and remodelling of 11 of the 22 airports under the control of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to contractors without the traditional bidding process even at an undisclosed amount. Good at least the jobs are ongoing.

Today the nation could boast of  some modern day domestic terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Kaduna etc.  Also there are plans to resume the second phase of the project which will include the building of  four new international terminal and six cargo terminals across the country in the first quarter of 2013. Good as these project may look or sound the other issues which would bring about the deserved development of the entire industry are far left behind on addressed.

The issue of the autonomy of the Civil Aviation Authority in the country was those well stated and articulated on papers but they are far from real in practice.

Year 2012 saw it all were the Director General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (DG, NCAA) was still seen as an appendage of the minister of aviation on issue regarding regulations in the industry.

During the unfortunate June 3, 2012 crash of a Dana aircraft in Lagos, the minister rather than allowing the NCAA to do its job according to law down rules and regulations was seen acting contrary.

She in her wisdom suspended the airline and withdrew its operation certificate even when result of the preliminary investigations in to the crash was yet to begin.

Just as that was going on the national assembly recommended for the sack and criminal prosecution of the director general, not that he has been found culpable of  any misdeed, but because they do not like the face of the man who occupies the seat. It was the least expected of a respected committee on a sensitive industry as aviation in Nigeria which is seen as the only surviving industry in the country and where the succession plan put in place has been a subject of debate.

During the year in review, domestic airlines groaned under a very severe operating environment which led many of them to close shops middle of the year. Those in operations do so under a very  heavy debt burden which may send them closing shops further.

Despite the zero import duties granted the airline operators on aircraft and spare parts, the cost of operation remained on roof top. The price of Jet A1 which is the major input in operation oscillated between N180 and N190 throughout the year.    The Minister of Aviation is yet to make the recommendation of the committee set up to address the issue of aviation fuel price known.

The issue of a national carrier remained a thorny issue throughout  the year under review, though the Federal government has made its intention to float a national carrier known to the nation, but the mode and the model to be applied remained a national issue. As a nation that used to have one of the best national carrier which was ran aground through corruption of its manager the fear of not meeting the fate that befell the former Nigeria Airways remains a thing of great concerns among all stakeholder.

Stakeholders however believe that a good model that would meet internationally accepted  best practices on such situation must be adopted if the government actually want to float a profitable and enduring national carrier.

Even as the federal government planned to execute a re-fleeting programme for domestic airline operators in the country, with the decision to purchase 30 aircraft, however,  good as this intention may be, the choice of negotiator is wrong and must be reviewed except there is more to the deal than meeting the eyes.

What technical expertise has an airport manager gotten on aircraft operations or efficiency of any aircraft that could be regarded as better than those possess by the industry regulator or aircraft operators? It is expected that if NCAA with all its technical expertise cannot be saddled with that responsible, a team of independent negotiators which should include the representatives of Airline Operators of Nigeria, (AON), NCAA, Nigerian  College of Civil Aviation Technology (NCAT) among others.

Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) after five years of darkness on Runway L18 successfully restored light to the once forgotten runway this no doubt was a good development in the industry but the trade dispute rocking the agency needed to be checkmated before the entire nation’s airspace is thrown into unwarranted chaos. The agency for almost half of last year was embroiled in trade disputes over pay package disparity between air traffic controllers and the engineers. This has led to many unsavoury reports on the state of the nation’s airspace. Yet there is not end in sight to an end to the internal rancour which may become national embarrassment.

It is time the management of NCAT tells the nation about its competency to deliver first class aviation training standard for the nation. The lull in which the nation’s premier flying academy found itself in the last one years calls for concerns. The government needs to make its stand known whether the school would be fully commercialised for efficiency or would want to make some significant change that would bring about the deserved improvement it needed.