Kwara State is noted for appropriating opportunities to improve the lot of its people. This peculiarity prompted the establishment of an aviation training institute, which has become a toast of the continent. SULAIMON OLANREWAJU reports. The International Aviation College, Ilorin, is a product of two factors; the urge to widen the options of the people and a desire to tap into available opportunities. Given its location, Ilorin is midway between the North and the South of the country. Coupled with this is a weather that is favourable to flying. Added to the two is the fact that the international airport located in the town has the longest runway in the country, apart from Lagos. Then the Air Force chose the town as the site for its hanger. With all these, the stage was set for the emergence of the town as an aviation hub; the only thing that was missing was an aviation training institute. To bridge the gap, the administration of Dr Olusola Saraki set up the International Aviation College, which came on stream in January 2012.
However, while speaking on the establishment of the college, Dr. Muyideen Akorede, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Communications to Kwara State governor, said it was beyond mere filling a gap, adding that the state decided to invest in the college to open up a vista of opportunities for its youths while also boosting the economic base of the state. His words, “Indeed, His Excellency Senator Bukola Saraki saw a gap in aviation training in the country. Imagine a country as big as Nigeria having just only one aviation training school. So, he thought it was a gap that we could fill because it was part of his administration’s plan to enhance human capital development of our youths by providing those who desire to train as pilots an opportunity to achieve their dream.
“But that was not the only reason for doing what he did. The long term view was to position Kwara State as an aviation hub and increase its revenue base. We are strategically located as a gateway to the North and the South of the country. According to experts, our weather is beneficial to flying and the Air Force already has an hanger here. Thankfully, after Dr. Saraki left office, the Navy decided to set up its aviation training wing here in Kwara State and also because of our focus on agriculture, we have the intention of building the first cargo terminals with facilities to store farm produce. When you bring farm produce in, you can keep them in cool storage until the aircraft that will evacuate these products arrive. Basically, the aviation college is part of the government’s vision of establishing Kwara State as aviation hub.” Although the school is owned by the state, it is not run by the state but technocrats. The government even went a step further by ensuring that it is self sustaining.
Speaking on this, Akorede said, “From day one, the plan was to use the private sector style to run it. For example, the chairman of the board is the chairman of Overland. He is an experienced aviator and an experienced aviation administrator. So that’s the plan, because whether we like it or not, the history of government running organisations is not very positive, unfortunately. So, we decided to bring in people from the private sector to drive it into profitability and within a short time of its existence, the college has been able to attract the Nigerian Air Force, which uses the ground to train some of its cadet, which is important, because the Nigerian Air Force is one of the most elite in the West Africa zone. So it was a resounding endorsement for the school.” He added that sequel to the patronage being enjoyed by the college, the government had stopped funding it. “As I speak now, it is self running; it is not getting any subvention from the government anymore.”
Corroborating Akorede’s submission that the college had become self-sustaining, its Business Development/Marketing Manager, Mr. Hakeem Hassan, said the college attracted students from various parts of the country and abroad to the extent that it could stand on its own without having to lean on the government. “Now, we get students not just from Nigeria but many countries of Africa as well. We have airlines that send their staff to us for training, we also have students from various government agencies. Right now, we have some students who started their training abroad but have come to this college to complete their training. We have those who come here for continuous development because of the facilities on ground. So, the college is doing quite well,” Hassan said.
Speaking on the training the students are exposed to, Captain Joseph Gamra, an instructor with over 35 years of flying experience, said the students are being given the highest level of training because of the quality of instructional materials and resource persons available in the college. According to Gamra, “We have this simulator which has both digital and analogue instruments. The analogue instruments are those used in old generation aircraft, while digital instruments are the ones used in modern aircraft. What we do is that we have the analogue as back up for the digital instruments. This simulator has the capability of replicating all the situations a pilot can meet in actual flight; height, storms, different kinds of wind and different kinds of cloud conditions. What we are doing is train them to be able to fly instruments under all those conditions. We can replicate snow, rain, slit, icing, everything. We can also put aircraft in different parts of the world. We can make somebody to fly from London Heathrow to Gatwick, from Lagos to Ilorin, Benin, everywhere. We have the database for all the airports in the world.”
On the advantages of the simulator, he said, “It runs on electricity and it is cheaper to operate than an aircraft. People can make mistakes while learning the procedure of flying and they may crash or damage the aircraft but we only see it in the cyber-world. By using the simulator, if a pilot crashes the aircraft, there is no death, he can walk out but he would have learnt very important lessons.” The training lasts 18 months during which the students are exposed to theoretical and practical aspects of the European flying curriculum. The theory is tailored after the Oxford Aviation Academy, while the flying part of it is tailored after the Joint Aviation Authority (JAA) curriculum. The products get employment easily because of the rigour and quality of their training. Having been exposed to the digital equipment, which is the in thing in modern aviation, they find it easy to handle and operate all types of aircraft.