‘Why over 500 young pilots, engineers are not getting jobs’
The Rector and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, Kaduna State, Capt. Abdullahi Mohammed, in this interview with WOLE OYEBADE, x-rays the problem of unemployed pilots vis-à-vis an estimate that Nigeria currently has over 500 trained yet unemployed pilots and engineers milling around the aviation sector. Mohammed, among other issues, said the lasting solutions abound in both the local industry and in emerging opportunities in global aviation community. Excerpts:
You have been on the driver’s seat at NCAT since 2017. What major changes have you brought to the college?
When I was appointed in January 2017, the immediate mandates were to restore the status of the college; to attain the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Regional Training Centre of Excellence (RTCE) status, to attain the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) for our diploma programme, also, and to complete the ongoing projects that I met on ground. I am pleased to report that we have met majority of these mandates. As you are aware, we achieved the RTCE status back in 2017.
When we came onboard, the college had developed two standard packages. One of the requirements by ICAO to be considered for RTCE is the development of a minimum of three standard packages. So, when I became the rector, my immediate interest was to conclude the Standard Training Packages (STPs) that were going on and I am proud to announce to you now that as at today, the college has developed eight standard training packages. This has surpassed most of our training institutions that are under the ICAO-Plus programme.
I met a lot of projects that were ongoing, we have successfully completed most of them and those that are still ongoing, we hope to complete them by 2020. In terms of staff welfare, I recognise that to get the best out of your staff, you must get them the best. Today, we on the ground standard condition of service as approved by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation. We also encourage and promote capacity building among the staff by sending them on training, and at every opportunity that we have. When conducting trainings at the college, we also put in members of our staff on such programmes.
Going forward, my plan is to double our activities in the college by introducing new courses, which is to enhance our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). We are hoping to establish a course that will train people on the use of drones. As you are aware, during one of the symposia on Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) that were held in Abuja in 2017, the college was mandated to come up with a training programme for RPAS, popularly known as drones.
A popular constraint to your training programmes is the availability of serviceable aircraft for the trainees. What is the fleet size to date?
As of Monday this week, we had 10 serviceable aircraft in the fleet of NCAT. The daily serviceability fluctuates because as the aircraft are utilised on a daily basis, they go in for maintenance. They have 50 hours and 100 hours of checks. So, when the hours are exhausted, they are pulled into the hangar and the maintenance carried out before they return. As it is, we have 10 aircraft that are fully serviceable, which is a good improvement on what we used to have.
The previous administration began the process of acquiring 20 additional aircraft, which ran into financial constraints under the current administration.
You are talking about the supply is of 20 Diamond aircraft. Those are DA42, which has two engines and 15 DA40, which is single-engine aircraft. Because of budgetary constraints, you cannot order for the entire aircraft at once. So, we ordered the aircraft in batches. When I assumed duty in 2017, the college took delivery of only one DA42 aircraft. Because when the initial orders were placed, the aircraft were manufactured, but due to the failure of the college then to make the payment, the manufacturer decided to sell the aircraft. So, they couldn’t get the aircraft any longer.
We decided that we were not going to place any other until we have the money. So, last year, I placed orders for six DA40 aircraft, we made all the payments that is required to guarantee the payment. We are going to perform factory acceptance check on these aircraft in the third week of January 2020 and thereafter, by two weeks after that, sometime in mid-February or so, the six aircraft would be delivered to Zaria.
This will greatly enhance our training capacity. With the delivery of these aircraft, we intend to place order for the batch of another aircraft. So, we will be ordering them in batches until we take delivery of the 20th aircraft.
A major concern is that many of your products – pilots and engineers alike – are still roaming the streets unemployed after spending several millions to get trained. Does this feedback bother you?
I am very concerned about employment for graduates and not only pilots. The issue is not about type-rating, but the experience. Even when some of them come back from America, they still don’t get jobs because they have not gathered the necessary hours. Different airlines have different requirements. Most of the airlines require a certain minimum of hours for insurance purposes before you can fly their aircraft.
So, these pilots before they are employable need to build up these hours. This is where the General Aviation comes in, because they don’t have these requirements. We encourage the young pilots to go into General Aviation. That is the practice worldwide. If they are able to build more hours, that will make them marketable and employable.
What is NCAT doing about type-rating of young pilots?
As you know, when a pilot graduates from school, he comes out with a Basic Commercial Pilot License and then with the type on the aircraft that he used for training. So, when he comes out and gets a job somewhere if they are operating that aircraft type he trained on, he doesn’t need additional training. But, if it is in any other aircraft that is different, he must undergo type-rating training regardless of the size of the aircraft. So, you can imagine the number of training facilities that you will need.
For the bigger commercial aircraft, most of the training is done with simulator, for cost effectiveness. We call them complex aircraft. When you fly complex aircraft, some of the manoeuvres and the emergencies that you have to be trained on cannot be carried out on actual aircraft. You can only do them on simulators. That is why you have to go to where they have the simulators. For each aircraft type, there is a simulator that is providing this training.
At NCAT, we recognised this gap, and that was why we embarked on the acquisition of the B737NG simulator. That is the type that Arik Air operates. We envisaged that the B737 Classics are on their way out. That is why we decided to go to the NG. This project would have been completed a long time ago. The initial process was to site the simulator in Lagos, but when this administration came into power in 2015, the decision was changed, now to site it in Zaria and there was no provision for the building that will accommodate this simulator. We looked at the possibility of using existing structures, but they are not suitable.
We now had to start afresh by getting consultants that will design the building, we had to go through the full procurement process, selecting contractors. We awarded that contract last year and the building as we speak is about 60 per cent completed. The structure is completed. We are only doing internal wiring, painting and stuff like that. That simulator we hope would be delivered to the college within the first quarter of 2020.
When we have that simulator installed, we will be able to offer type-rating courses on that B737NG. Now, as part of our plans for the future, we also made provision for a second simulator. So, if you go to the building, you will see that we have two simulator bases. We intend to install a second simulator. We are watching the industry to see if the national carrier comes on; the type of equipment they are going to use will now guide us on the type of simulator to install. Once we have the national carrier, NCAT will play a big role in training a lot of the personnel.
Figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) keep showing demand and shortage of pilots globally. How do we marry this with the glut in Nigeria?
IATA figures will continue to show that there is a demand for more pilots because this is based on aircraft orders. People are always ordering new aircraft and we have people who are retiring. So, there will continue to be need for more pilots. In Nigeria, we don’t order a lot of aircraft, the biggest orders IATA is quoting are taken from the Middle East and Asia. This is where most of the big orders are. In Europe and America, most of the aircraft are owned by leasing companies. These leasing companies are the actual owners of these airplanes and then they give them to airlines.
There will continue to be this gap for some time in Nigeria because we have quite a lot of unemployed people. So, it will take time before they are all fully employed and we as a training organisation will continue to train more personnel for the industry. Like I told you, we intend to increase our training capacity, but hopefully, the industry is growing, Africa is growing and there is a huge demand for air travel because people now realise that it is the safest and the most convenient form of transportation.