May 27, 2019 will remain indelible in the minds of 1,743 secondary school students from 74 schools across Zaria, Kaduna, Katsina and Kano who participated in an excursion by the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT Zaria).
Through a programme it tagged ‘Open day’, NCAT had thrown its gate open to the students and had dozens of instructors who took the visitors on an expedition of the school. The theme of the open day was ‘Understanding what we do here’ at NCAT .
During the excursion, the students accessed the aircraft hangar, the various simulators, the aircraft attendance department, the interactive classrooms and several other areas. They were also allowed to sit in the cook pits of aeroplanes; watch how aircraft are maintained and also experience how the aircraft are directed/controlled from the control tower via the simulator. This rare privilege and experience caused a positive disruption in the career paths of the students.
Some of the students who spoke to our correspondent said they were already considering career paths in aircraft piloting, aeronautic engineering and air traffic controlling. For Africa, and Nigeria particularly, inspiring the next generation of aviation professionals is critical. Here’s why. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicted a shortfall in the supply of critical personnel in aviation in the future.
By 2030, according to ICAO, over 350,000 more pilots would be required and 480,000 aircraft engineers needed to meet the annual 3.1 percent increase in passenger volume. The point to note is that, as the present crop of experienced professionals retires, coupled with the projected growth in the industry, the likelihood that these experienced hands would be in short supply becomes increasingly certain.
Also, there are many airlines that are coming up; they are ordering aircraft and they need additional personal. This is in addition to existing airlines expanding their operations. For Nigeria for instance, its national carrier on its way; it will need pilots, engineers and more. The existing domestic carriers are also expanding operations. The Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility is also being established.
This will require a significant number of aviation engineers and other technicians. The planned aviation university when it comes to life will also need huge technical manpower in addition to the additional manpower NCAT might need as an ICAO centre of excellence with increased demand and students from West Africa and elsewhere.
In a chat with our correspondent over the idea of inspiring renewed interest in aviation courses, the Rector/Chief Executive of Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, Capt. Abdulsalami Mohammed, said the picture, though, frightening, but the college sees it as a blessing in disguise. The rector indicated that he was also a product of a similar exercise in the 1970s. According to him, NCAT officials had visited his school and inspired them to take careers in aviation.
“This is how I came to NCAT to qualify as a pilot,” he said. He said the catch-them-young programme is a worldwide thing based on the impending shortage of aviation professionals. To encourage more Nigerians to train as aviators, he said the “N7 million NCAT charges to train pilots is the cheapest you can train in any part of the world”.
He said if young Nigerians take advantage of that, Nigeria can be a net exporter of aviation skills in the long run. Capt. Mohammed also said the essence of the programme was to sensitize the general public on the activities of the college, saying that several students were ignorant of the opportunities that abound in the aviation sector.
He explained that the programme was opened to all students across the country, including undergraduates from higher institutions of learning. Besides, he emphasised that parents and aviation enthusiasts all over the country were also expected for the programme, stressing that apart from piloting, NCAT also trains air traffic controllers, engineers and cabin crew members among others.
He said: “We actually want the world to know about NCAT and its activities. We are the foremost aviation college in this country and indeed on the continent, unfortunately, some people, especially parents and students, are still ignorant of the several courses we offer in this institution. “To many, NCAT is all about piloting and nothing else, but we have to create awareness and let them know that we do more than piloting. There are many potential aviation professionals out there that don’t know much about our activities.
We hope to change that orientation with the open day that took place on May 27 at the college,” he said. But beyond the open day, the federal, states and even corporates can institute scholarship programmes to aid poor, talented students to also get a career in aviation. The N7 million training cost for pilots might be the cheapest in the world but it is still prohibitive and out of reach of the average Nigerian parents who might want their children and wards to pursue careers as pilots. But scholarships can make those distant dreams come true.
By Chris Agabi