Monday, 25th September 2023

On the wings of history: A review of aviation sector under Buhari

The place of aviation industry in the economic and social growth of any nation cannot be over-emphasised.

Fuel scarcity in the aviation sector

The place of aviation industry in the economic and social growth of any nation cannot be over-emphasised.

It is a major source of revenue for the governments and stakeholders. It is also source of job creation even for semi-literates, though it is largely associated with the elite.

In Nigeria, the industry has been growing slowly but steadily since the first aircraft belonging to Royal Air Force (RAF) from Egypt landed on its soil in now Malam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano on Nov. 1 1925.

During the leadership the immediate past president, Muhammadu Buhari, more airports such as Abakiliki in Ebonyi were inaugurated thereby creating jobs and wealth in the host communities.

However, several challenges, including safety concerns, high operation costs, including aviation fuel, inadequate funding, lack of skilled manpower among others adversely affect the sector.

These factors led to the collapse of some airlines, though some new ones such as Green Africa sprang up. The period under review also witnessed some skirmishes between the Federal Government and foreign airlines who protested against non-remittance of their monies by the later.

If these challenges are addressed, they could significantly unlock the industry’s potential for future growth.

The challenges require governments to enhance regulation of aerospace management, consumer protection and safety of airlines. With these in place, there are lots of opportunities and future prospects.

To achieve the feat, in alignment with the Aviation Roadmap, approved by Buhari on Oct. 18, 2016, the former Ministry of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika had fully engaged in the implementation of contents of the roadmap across the nation.

Sirika, on behalf of Federal Government, signed a Memoranda of Understanding with Nile University of Nigeria for the take-off of the African Aviation and Aerospace University (AAAU) to boost man power supply to the sector.

He said the Federal Government would partner with Nile University of Nigeria to support the take-off of the university with the core mandate of aerospace aviation and aeronautical science.

According to him, the University will be run on dual mode (Hybrid) physical and virtual beginning with bachelor degree in Aviation Business, and Meteorology.

“It is also expected that there will be more research in academic collaboration is established between AAAU and Nile University for the mutual benefit of the two universities”, he said.

One of the major decisions to reposition the sector during the Buhari administration was the approval by the Federal Executive Council to concession Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, and Malam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano.

The two airports are among the busiest airports in the country. The arrangement is to make them more efficient and enhance their revenue generation.

“Coupled with due diligence visits conducted from Dec. 27, to Dec. 29, 2022 and Jan.9, to Jan.10, 2023, the Corporacion American Airport Consortium has emerged as the preferred bidder.

“The consortium, composed of the Corporation American Airports, Mota Engil Africa, and Mota Engil Nigeria, is globally recognized for its superior technical expertise in the design, construction, management, and operation of infrastructure,” it said.

According to him, the Corporation American Airports, a New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), listed airport operator, has presence across three continents, managing 53 airports in six countries and serving approximately 82.4 million passengers in 2019.

“This agreement, under a Public-Private Partnership arrangement, will be effective for twenty (20) years for NAIA and thirty (30) years for MAKIA.

“In addition, the Corporacion American Airport Consortium is committed to making upfront payments of USD 7 million for NAIA and USD 1.5 million for MAKIA.

“During the concession period, total projected nominal revenues accruable from the combined Concession of NAIA and MAKIA exceed $4 billion United States Dollars”, he said.

Under the administration, the expanded first phase of the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) and the cargo terminal at the Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos were inaugurated The projects are worth N2, 2 billion.

The facility also comes with the complements of three standard departure halls, three VIP Lounges, two protocol lounges, three 3 lifts, four toilets, five office spaces and five staircases and others.

He explained that the projects were conceived to address the decades-long limited capacity challenge of the terminal and cargo facilities in the industry.

Perhaps no project or reform in the sector over the past eight years drew more attention and scrutiny than Air Nigeria.

It is a flagship project of the administration meant to fulfill the campaign promise of re-establishing a national carrier following the demise of Nigeria Airways.

After years of speculation, the Nigeria eventually at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, took delivery of a Boeing 737-800 aircraft to kick-start the process of rebirth of a national carrier.

SIrika said though Nigeria Air, a operated in partnership with Ethiopia Airline started business with one aircraft, there are plans to create a fleet of 35 aircraft by 2028.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered into by the two partners indicates that Ethiopian Airlines will own a 49 per cent stake in the new airline, while the Nigerian Sovereign Fund will take 46 per cent and the Nigerian Federal Government the remaining 5 per cent.

“The preferred bidder, Ethiopia, as a country as well as the second largest economy in Africa after Nigeria, is largely dependent on Ethiopia Airline. They have been operating the airline for over 70 years.

“Really, airline infrastructure is a driver of the economy. It is a catalyst for growth and economy,” Sirika said at the inauguration of Air Nigeria in Abuja.

The Air Nigeria project has received criticism from various quarters including an anti-corruption group,

An anti-corruption group, SecureWorld and Liberty Initiative for Peace (SELIP) which has petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) and urged the anti-graft agency to probe the project, saying it was used to carry out economic sabotage.

The petition was addressed to the EFCC Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, was signed by the Executive Director of SELIP, Mark Adebayo.

It urged the commission to investigate the outgoing minister for undertaking ventures designed to benefit a few individuals and lead to the eventual collapse of the aviation industry, a critical sector of the Nigerian economy.

Another stakeholder, airline operators, under the aegis of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) have also protested against the airline, describing it as an attempt to undermine local airline operators.

They argue that the Federal Government erred by bringing a foreign carrier and assigning it local routes. Already, the group is challenging the project in a court.

In spite of the criticism, Buhari said through his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari. in Abuja at the 14th ICAO Air Services Negotiation that his administration delivered on its promises, particularly on aviation safety.

“Nigeria continues to champion the cause of aviation safety, security and facilitation throughout the continent with our ongoing support on the comprehensive regional implementation plan for Aviation Security and the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF)” he said.