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Experts seek private sector-driven reforms in air sector

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Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, Nigeria.

Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, Nigeria.

AVIATION professionals in Nigeria have bemoaned the state of the sector as well as the plight of the operators and come up with a resolution that only a unity of purpose among the stakeholders and a private sector-player-driven reform; dispassionately implemented could rescue the sector and make it truly play its role as both the back bone of the economy and a symbol of the nation’s pride.

Notwithstanding the fact that most of them expressed diverse opinions on the modalities to adopt to turn around the dwindling fortunes of the sector, they were however united in their final submission that a genuine rescue mission involving all the stakeholders must be urgently embarked on.

Speaking at a one-day colloquium with the theme ‘Leapfrogging Nigeria Aviation to Match Her Potential’, the professionals among who were the Chief Executive Officer, Ropeways Transport, Captain Dapo Olumide, Vice President, Revenue Management of Porter Airlines, Mr. Chris Amenechi, an Aviation Finance consultant and Managing Director of Katari System Nigeria Limited, Ali Mohammed Magashi, Publisher of Nigeriatravelsmart.com, Simon Tumba, Chief Executive Officer Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Ltd., Managing, Christophe Penninck, expressed a common view on the urgent need to upgrade the infrastructure at all the country’s airports to make them meet the standard obtained in countries that today are the reference points in the sector in the world.

In his presentation: ‘The last 50 years of Aviation’, Captain Olumide pointed out that the country has remained stagnant and learnt nothing in the quest for a better aviation industry and that this is why it continues to face the same problems it faced many years ago.

His word “The reason I gave the presentation on this is that you cannot determine the future if you do not know where you are coming from. Kano Airport when it was built in 1936 was built to accommodate 100 or so passengers but even at that time the capacity was not enough because the aircraft then could carry 107 passengers, Now 60 years down the line the airport is still the same capacity.”

“The Avio Bridge at the MMA (Murtala Mohammed Airport) stopped functioning in 1985 and no one seems to be embarrassed about it, We have set mediocrity as the new benchmark for excellence and we have adjusted our minds to a new low,’ he added.

Also speaking at the colloquium, Chris Amenechi maintained that for Nigeria to move forward, it should be a net promoter of smart open skies globally, as it has everything to make the continent an open market.
Speaking on ”Nigeria 2045- Transforming Nigeria to be an aviation global leader’, he said the idea would make the carriers better competitors, regional gladiators, and global explorers.

According to him, “The ‘Open Skies’ policy championed by the United States has been contentious and most times has led to trade/flight imbalance between countries that have the aviation pact with the US.
“When Nigeria signed the ‘Open Skies’ agreement with the United States in 2000, many thought of the benefits that would accrue from the pact, considering the fact that the country’s air transport system was already liberalised and one that would engender competition”.

“The landmark agreement signed 15 years ago after former President Bill Clinton visited Nigeria has been so lopsided to the extent of eliciting reactions and condemnations. Those opposed to the agreement are of the view that American carriers were more prepared than their Nigerian counterparts who were yet to be designated.
“It took the designation of Arik Air to benefit, though, insignificantly from the market. The Nigerian carrier was designated to New York as the sole airline to the United States to compete with more established United Airlines and Delta; two airlines that are regarded as part of the biggest in the world”, Amenechi noted.

He noted that the Nigerian aviation industry has significant commercial and infrastructure upside, stressing that it has the potential to drive significant export and income through visionary leadership utilizing natural talent.
But sadly he said, “Unfortunately, the leadership over the last 30 years has not been consistent or visionary enough. The previous missteps have left it moribund for the most part so it is not a surprise Nigeria is lagging its global peers.
“The aviation industry can be one of the triggers to drive the nation’s economy by this and subsequent administration.

“The country’s aviation industry according to experts requires the appropriate leadership like what was experienced in the mobile communications industry after the advent of democracy in the country”, Amenechi said.
The Managing Director of Katari System Nigeria Ltd., Mohammed Magashi, who spoke on ‘Financing Nigerian Aviation: The Option For Growth’, noted that high interest rate charged airlines by commercial banks in the country has been one of the several funding obstacles militating against the growth of the industry.

In his view, other funding obstacles on the industry’s path of growth include: poor credit rating, over regulated financial system, which according to him impedes on simple and genuine foreign currency transaction, over regulation and expensive procedures by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), which he said impede on start-up airlines.

He contended that, for the Nigerian aviation industry to grow, the federal government must provide conducive investment climate for investors.

He alleged that exploitation by NCAA; using multiple inspections of aircraft, training facilities and maintenance facilities equally impede aviation growth in the nation.
He advocated for a well targeted and effective subsidy from the federal government, intervention guarantee funds with very low interest rate with longer tenure, reduction of multiple taxation that impedes airlines revenue, create easier access to foreign exchange from Central Bank of Nigeria, as part of measures to move the sector forward.

He proffered other funding models such as reduction in customs and excise tariffs for local airlines, reduction of landing and parking as well as navigational charges for local airlines

Forecasting the future of the sector in the next 30 years, he said that two to four dominant Nigerian based carriers would emerge domestically, regionally, and globally.

Earlier the Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria travelsmart.com and organiser of the colloquium, Tumba, lamented that the inability of Nigeria to optimally harness the country’s huge population to her advantage.
He made reference to how other countries like the United, India have continued to maximise their huge population to the benefit of their respective aviation industries, wondering why Nigeria has not been able to do so.

Tumba called on stakeholders and participants at the colloquium to look into how Nigeria can tap into the huge population to contribute to the growth of aviation.


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