By ISAAC TERSOO AGBER
NIGERIA’S infant airlines face tough times that leave them struggling to stay in business. After failed operations resulting from harsh business climate and poor regulations, the airlines spend huge sums to maintain their aircraft overseas. Reports have shown that the cost of maintaining one aircraft overseas ranges from $450,000 or N144 million to $500,000 million or N160 million in a year aside from other operational costs running into millions.
And for an airline with over 20 aircraft, the cost is quite staggering. But knowing that maintenance keeps the aircraft air worthy, the airlines can’t run away from it because they want to stay in business. Having invested in aviation to run an airline, the worst thing a CEO would do is neglect the aspect of scheduled maintenance. Maintenance has a minimum of five phases: day-to-day line maintenance; ‘A’ Checks; ‘B’ Checks; ‘C’ Checks and ‘D’ Checks in their order of intensity or costs. Except for the daily minor checks, which are also handled by expatriates, all others are done either in South Africa or Europe.
“We are losing so much money to foreign countries annually for routine maintenance carried out outside the country. This is due to the fact that we do not have any company where these checks can be done,” former Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, once said.
This and other lamentations of airline operators haven’t gotten any meaningful response from the Federal Government. It is one among the many cases of policy neglect at the implementation stage. “If the National hangar project which was decided in 1977 had been implemented, this problem would have been non-existent,” said Engr. Dung Rwang Pam, a pilot and aviation management professional.
He recalled that in 2009, negotiations had commenced between the Nigeria’s aviation authorities and Lufthansa technik with a view to setting up an MRO in Nigeria. But it is clear that the project has hit the rock after 7 years have elapsed. Pam observed that the situation isn’t good for a country that contributes over 65% of aircraft movement in the West African region.
But while the neglect persists, experts have insisted that the only way out for the airlines is to keep on calling on the government to establish MRO facilities in the country. Mr. Achuzie Ezenagu, Managing Director of Toucan Aviation a corporate aviation service provider, said the responsibility lies with the Federal Government, noting that it would save the country from incurring huge financial losses.
According to him, the facility will make aircraft checks cost effective for Nigerian airlines and reinforce Nigeria as a hub in West Africa.
He, however, observed that establishing an MRO in the country would cost a fortune owing to the rate at which naira is crashing while the dollar is gradually dictating business activities in the country.
“MRO is costly to set up in Nigeria because of the heavy levies from government, but this can be done. In our own company we operate Embraer aircraft and we have standby engineers for line maintenance for the planes. We don’t have the facilities to get the checks done here but government can partner with the private sector to establish a major MRO in the country,” Ezenagu said.
Speaking in the same vein at the conference, the former Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren said Nigeria is overripe to have such facility and noted that if 40 per cent of the funds spent on the re-modeling of airport facilities in the last few years were deployed by government to establish the facility it would have been invaluable for the development of aviation in the country.
Demuren noted that Nigeria loses huge resources maintaining its aircraft overseas and besides the economic loss, Nigerian trained aircraft engineers cannot secure jobs locally and for Nigeria to become the West African hub, it must have the MRO facility.