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Aviation sector records maintenance revolution

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The Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika

Nigeria’s first successful C-check on a Boeing 737-500 aircraft has become a game changer for the aviation industry.

At the weekend, Aero Contractors celebrated the feat, described as a triumph over a foreign ploy to dominate the maintenance sector of aviation.

Besides showcasing the world-class competency of the nation’s engineers and technicians, the development will save local carriers at least N9.2 billion from the N36 billion operators spend yearly taking commercial airplanes overseas.

 
The slash (N305 million per aircraft) offers a lifeline to struggling airlines. And with repairs done locally and paid for in naira, pressure would be eased off foreign exchange.

A C-check is a complex exercise that strips an airplane bare for detailed inspection of most of its parts and lasts three to eight weeks. Commercial planes are mandated to undergo the procedure every 18 months.

The Guardian had reported that the absence of a functional Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility in the country, at least in the last 17 years, was responsible for between N14.3 and N28.6 billion being spent by local airlines on yearly repairs overseas.

There had been subtle tactics by foreign maintenance outlets and equipment manufacturers to scuttle efforts by African countries at establishing MRO facilities.

Aero sourced foreign technical partners in Africa, Europe and the Middle East and went into agreement with one from the eastern bloc. “But as soon as operations were to begin, the agreement was declared null and void. I asked why and they said it was a business decision. Ninety per cent of their customers are from Nigeria. Should there be an MRO in the country (Nigeria), over 500 engineers and technicians (in foreign countries) will lose their jobs as a result of low patronage,” said Managing Director (MD), Capt. Ado Sanusi.
 
“It was a setback. But it made me more resolute to get a certification for our MRO and start C-check services in Nigeria with the support of AJ Waters and South African Technik.”

It will be recalled that Aero, the oldest airline in the country, came under a Receiver Manager when it was taken over by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) in 2016. On the brink of collapse, the new management switched focus to upgrading its maintenance hanger at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, to provide routine maintenance. It received the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) accreditation last year.

Currently, there are eight operating local airlines in Nigeria, with at least 59 aircraft in operation. About 30 of the planes are Boeing 737-500, 737-400 and 737-300 series.
 
At an average cost of N710 million ($2million) per aircraft, the airlines spend about N36 billion ($118 million) every 18 months on C-checks.

 
With the Boeing 737, however, making up half of the 59 operating commercial aircraft flown in Nigeria, at least N305 million ($1 million) would be saved on each C-check done locally. That is N9.2 billion ($30 million) in total.

Working seven-to-four everyday, Nigerian engineers and technicians completed the first successful C-check on Aero Contractors’ B37-500 airplane in eight weeks. The aircraft was certified perfect after the second test-run.

The Guardian learnt that nine B737s are on the queue at Aero’s hanger. Three are owned by Aero Contractors, while six belong to third parties.

Aero plans to expand to two bays before the end of the first quarter, and four before the year runs out. With the need to cope with demand, the airline appealed to the Federal Government to grant it a free trade status at the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA).
 
Base Maintenance Manager, James Ominiyi, said airlines could save up to $1 million per plane doing C-checks locally.
 
“The reason is that our labour charges are in naira, compared to outside where they charge $65 per engineer per hour. Secondly, you are going to fly your plane to that facility. You are going to pay overflying charges, technical stop, and for fuel. Technical representatives there will be paid in dollars. The crew that will bring the plane will have their services and tickets paid for in dollars.
 
“Another advantage is that NCAA officials visit us about once or twice a day. Doing it abroad means they will come at the end of the checks. Here, it is everyday. It means that the quality of work, here, is higher,” Ominiyi said.
 
He urged the Customs Service to facilitate easy clearance of tools imported for aircraft maintenance. “If we have a free trade zone, things can come in without all the rigours and delays,” he said.
 
The Director of Operations at AMCON, Aminu Ismail, said the first C-check by Aero was a proud achievement that would save a lot of foreign exchange for the country, build capacity locally and boost employment.
 
Industry expert and former Director General of the NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren, commended Sanusi and his team for the “smart” design of the hanger.

He urged the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to allocate lands to airlines willing to set up MRO facilities.
 
The Chairman of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggison, congratulated Nigeria on getting it right with Aero’s MRO.


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