By Anthony Awunor
No fewer than 45 domestic airlines have shut down operations in Nigeria in the last 35 years, investigations by LEADERSHIP have revealed.
The effect of the negative trend is evident in the number of industry professionals who have either lost their jobs or remained unemployed after many years of qualification.
Investigation by LEADERSHIP revealed that no fewer 600 commercial pilot certificate holders are currently unemployed as a result of the reduction in the number of functional airlines.
Airlines in the country started going under since 1958, when Nigerians started managing their airlines. Some of the domestic airlines shut down operations when the Nigerian government, in an effort to ensure better services and safety, set a deadline of April 30, 2007, for all airlines operating in the country to re-capitalise or be grounded.
Seven airlines failed to meet the deadline and were banned from flying in Nigeria’s airspace with effect from April 30, 2007. Some of the affected airlines were ADC Airlines, Fresh Air, Sosoliso Airlines, Albarka Air, Chrome Air Service, Dasab Airlines and Space World Airline.
The 45 defunct airlines include: ADC Airlines, Afrijet Airlines, Air Atlantic Cargo, Air Nigeria, Albarka Air, AL-AIR Al-Dawood Air, Amako Air, Amed Air, Arax Airlines, Axiom Air, Barnax Air, Bellview Airlines, Capital Airlines, Chrome Air Service, Dasab Airlines, Earth Airlines, EAS Airlines, Easy Link Aviation, Freedom Air Services, Fresh Air, GAS Air Nigeria, Hamsal Air, Harco Air Services, Hold-Trade Air, British Aircraft Corporation.
Others are: IAT Cargo Airlines, Intercontinental Airlines (Nigeria), Mangal Airlines, Meridian Airlines , Nicon Airways, Nigeria Airways, Nigeria One, Nigerian Global Aviation, Okada Air, Overnight Cargo Nigeria, Pan African Airlines, Premium Air Shuttle, Sosoliso Airlines, Space World International Airlines, Trans Sahara Air , Triax Airlines, Virgin Nigeria and Wings Aviation.
Industry stakeholders told LEADERSHIP that the tough times facing the country’s existing airlines are not novel as some of the now defunct ones faced similar issues before going under.
They cited high cost of aviation fuel, lack of foreign exchange which the airlines operate with, lack of spare parts, lack of maintenance facilities and harsh government policies amongst others, as some of the challenges bedeviling operators in the sector and expressed fears that unless the challenges are resolved, more airlines would be compelled to shut down operation in the near future.
Consequently, experts have called for urgent government intervention in the sector.
In an interview with LEADERSHIP, the managing director and chief executive officer of Skypower Express Nigeria Ltd, Captain Mohammed Joji, called on the federal government to quickly intervene in the sector so as to control the high mortality rate of airlines across the country.
Joji, a former managing director of defunct state-owned Nigerian Airways, was speaking against the backdrop of the recent suspension of flight operations by Aero Contractors Airlines, one of the oldest domestic airlines in the country, closely followed by First Nation and Arik airlines.
He pointed out that though Arik and First Nation airlines had resumed flight operations, there were still fears over the possibility of more airlines going under.
The managing director of one of the three surviving airlines in the country, Medview Airlines, Alhaji Muneer Bankole, also lamented the high mortality rate of airlines in the sector.
“We met 26 airlines and only five are left now,” he pointed out in an interview.
With the increasing mortality rate of airlines, stakeholders in the nation’s aviation sector have resorted to self-help to find lasting solutions to the lingering crises in the industry.
According to the national president of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), Mr Isaac Balami, the aviation minister and operators in the industry have been meeting over the issue.
Balami, however, lamented that government had not supported the airlines the way it ought to, in the last 30 years, saying that Nigeria should learn from the US, Europe, Ethiopia and even Kenya.
Beyond the stakeholders’ forum, attempts have also been made by other players in the industry. For example, the spate of dying airlines in the country has attracted the attention of Akwaaba. The issue has, therefore, been slated to top the agenda when aviation experts converge on Lagos to discuss the rising deaths of most domestic airlines at the 12th Akwaaba Aviation Day Conference scheduled to hold next month, with the topic, “Aviation in Africa and Why Airlines Fail.”
It is also expected that such forum will draw from the experiences of major players in the Nigerian aviation sector.
President of the Association of Transport and Senior Staff of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Comrade Benjamin Okewu, said that for airlines to continue to be in business, the issue of aviation fuel, popularly known as Jet A1, weak Naira, insurance and maintenance need to be tackled once and for all.
On the issue of aviation fuel, the union leader advised the government to allow the operation of smaller refineries so that the price of the product would be reduced to affordable prices.
Okewu further advised government to liaise with international financial institutions so that credit facilities would be easily accessible to the airline operators at very low interest rates.
On his part, the CEO of Onedot Aviation, Captain Henry Ogunyemi, said that once the issue of indigenous maintenance facilities is addressed, airline businesses would save a lot from high overseas maintenance costs.
According to him, using local MROs can enable the MRO increase their capacity as well as train and employ more Nigerians.
FG assures workers of job security
Meanwhile, the federal government has assured workers in the aviation sector that their jobs would be protected as it carries out reforms in the sector.
Minister of state, aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, assured unions in the aviation industry that no workers would be sacked in the proposed concessioning of the four major airports in the country.
He also disclosed that all the remaining 22 airports would be concessioned in the second phase.
Speaking while meeting with the unions represented by the Air Transport Senior Staff Services of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) in Lagos, at the weekend, Sirika gave the unions the opportunity to become members of the concession Project Delivery Committee, to enable them make inputs to better the process.
The federal government, according to the minister, has earmarked the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) and Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA) for the first phase of concessioning, which will be followed by the cargo-designated airports and then others.
Sirika reiterated that the airports, as they are, were a major blemish which needed improvement, adding that the reason behind government’s resolve to concession them was over-riding national interest to ensure the establishment and sustenance of world-class standards in infrastructural development and service delivery.
He assured the unions that concessioning was not tantamount to privatisation or outright sale, and explained that the institutions being concessioned remained the property of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the country.
The minister further stated that the exercise would lead to the creation of more jobs.
“Government has no plans whatsoever to sell national assets; it was sheer misconception. But the truth is that government does not have money to invest, and even if it could, with the sheer bureaucracy, it could take 10 years and Nigerians are tired of what is on ground and want something new,” Sirika stated.
He argued that private investors, like those who built airports at Doha and Dubai, could provide funding for such a project and accomplish it with ease, giving the country a state-of-the-art terminal facility devoid of the problems of the current ones, and after a period, as the term concession implies, return the said facility to the country.
First Nation airways resumes flight operation
First Nation Airways, which suspended scheduled flight operations about three weeks ago, yesterday announced resumption of operations.
This was contained in a statement by Rasheed Yusuff of the Corporate Affairs unit of the airline’s Lagos office.
The airline said it was committed to its flight operations and remains bullish about Nigeria’s economic outlook.
“We are currently working on expanding our fleet as well” it said.
LEADERSHIP recalls that barely 24 hours after Aero Contractors Airlines, one of the oldest domestic airlines in the country, suspended its scheduled services from September 1, 2016, First Nation followed suit.
However, director-general of the NCAA, Capt. Muhtar Usman, explained that First Nation had to suspend its operations in order to carry out the required maintenance of its aircraft.