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That damning report on abandoned aircraft

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Some of the unserviceable aircraft at Lagos airport.

It is hardly surprising that Nigeria has taken the unenviable top spot in the ranking of countries with the highest rate of abandoned and unserviceable aircraft among 10 countries polled for the exercise. A Swiss-based firm, CH Aviation conducted the poll and released the damning report. Even though Nigeria has a smaller industry, it ranks higher than Germany, United Kingdom, Argentina, and Malaysia among the top countries with the highest number of geriatric planes.

This, again, is another sad commentary on the state of affairs in a country that is so endowed with human and material resources but bedevilled by poor leadership and inept institutional frameworks to address routine matters, including regular maintenance of assets.

According to the 2021 CHAviation report, Nigeria topped the list of countries with the most unserviceable aircraft with a score of 69.2 per cent beating Germany with 51.2 per cent to the second place in the survey. Experts who have spoken on why we are in this situation explained the causes in two broad categories. First is the faulty business plan on which most local investors run and are being recycled by subsequent investors in the aviation industry. Second is the harsh operating environment characterised by lack of needed infrastructural support and unstable economic policies of government.

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One of the wrong things on the business plan is the choice of airplanes with operators preferring the cheaper middle-range jet engine aircraft type. This choice may appear cheaper in the short run but since it requires a more expensive maintenance routine, it overburdens the business in the long run. The cost of a C-check of these cheaper brands, according to experts, is more than enough to buy a new aircraft and this explains why some prefer to buy a new one instead. In our operating environment, experts advise that operators use smaller aircraft deemed right for local operations.

But beyond the business model is an appalling operating environment. It beggars logic that Nigeria has not established a Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility in the country after 60 years of Independence and a longer aviation history. The MRO would have crashed maintenance bills and have a multiplier effect on the economy through employment generation and a reduced strain on the foreign exchange regime. For a nation that cannot refine its crude oil, it is hardly surprising but no less indicting.

The aviation sector needs to be treated with a greater amount of seriousness than it currently gets. It is a sector that is capital intensive and denominated in foreign currencies. It is also a hi-tech and high precision industry. Furthermore, mistakes and neglect in its operation quickly leads to mishaps that have the tendency to claim many lives in one fell swoop. All of the above point to the need to be extra careful when aviation matters are concerned.

Even in the event of an inevitable grounding of an aircraft, it needs not be the end of its relevance to the society. In other climes, geriatric aircraft are converted to other uses in the entertainment and hospitality industries. In Nigeria, they are left in unsightly conditions that are capable of causing further harm and as monuments to our gargantuan wastefulness. This must stop.
The regulatory agencies and the government must up their games in surveillance and enforcement of extant rules and regulations.

One other suspicion of experts is that some of the investors see the sector as a good way to launder ill-gotten fortunes from the public till. They are not necessarily astute investors who would go the whole hog to ensure genuine and solid return through rigorous analysis of the investment climate. This nouveau-riche soon runs out of steam through ill-preparation and bad management practices.

But of greater significance is Nigeria’s appalling record when it comes to maintenance. From the refineries, to roads, factories and other infrastructure, the story is the same. This, then, is the attitude that Nigeria needs to expunge in our body politic and institute a culture of regular maintenance of what she has. Without that change of attitude, the country will continue to be good examples of how not to do it in various spheres of her national life.

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