The high points Globally, the success of any country’s civil aviation sector is benchmarked on the safety of its operations, particularly of commercial passenger flights plying domestic and international routes.
In 2018, the Nigerian aviation sector closed the year with a zero air crash incident. It would be the fifth year the country would achieve a zero accident record after the Associated Airline crash of October 2013, great thanks to the strict safety regulations and enforcement on domestic airlines’ operations by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). This feat, no doubt, counts as the highest achievement for the industry in 2018.
But there were nonetheless other high points recorded in the aviation industry in 2018. Among them, the inauguration of the new terminals of the Port Harcourt International Airport and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja.
These two projects, were conceptualized by former President Goodluck Jonathan under a Built Operate and Transfer (BOT) deal with the Chinese Government. While the China Exim Bank provided the bulk of funding ($500million) which also covered the expansion of the terminal buildings of the Lagos, Kano and Enugu international airports, the Nigerian government was to supply a counterpart funding of $100million for these projects.
However, midway into the projects, some contractors had to down tools in protest following the inability of the Nigerian government to provide its own side of the cash calls.
The Port Harcourt International Airport became the worst hit as its one terminal structure was also pulled down for upgrading even as work was ongoing in the new terminal structure.
This created a major crisis in the airport infrastructure leading to its a back-to-back ranking (2015 and 2016) as the ‘worst airport in the world’ and ‘third worst airport in the world’ in 2017 in a pool conducted by rating agency, SleepinginAirport.
There is therefore no doubt that 2018 marked a turning point in passenger experience at Port Harcourt Airport with the inauguration of the new state-of-the-art terminal by President Muhammadu Buhari. And it is the same testimony for passengers travelling through the Abuja airport terminal which is now linked to a mono rail that freights passengers from the airport to the Federal capital City.
The low points
One of the cardinal programmes earmarked by President Muhammadu Buhari in its ‘Aviation Sector Road map’ in 2015 was the establishment of a national carrier for the country. And to underscore the seriousness of the government towards the national airline project, President Buhari had promised to offload some aircraft in the Presidential fleet to support the establishment of a national carrier. In early 2018, the Minister of State for
Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika in a bid to actualise this vision had announced a December 24, 2018 deadline for the takeoff of the national carrier.
After investing over $800million in laying the foundation for the national airline for all the consultancy jobs and negotiations for aircraft purchase agreements with Airbus and Boeing Corporation, the government had found it difficult to attract the ‘strategic equity investors’ to take up the majority 95 per cent stake in Nigeria Air Limited for the eventual take-off of the airline.
Sadly, apart from the unveiling of a logo and brand name (Nigeria Air) for the proposed national carrier, 2018 ended with the Buhari government unable to keep to its promise of floating a vibrant national airline for the country as the project was truncated the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
The implication is that the Nigerian sky continues to be dominated by foreign airlines with the attendant capital flight. In the same vein, an estimated five thousand direct and indirect jobs that would have been created for locals by the new nation al carrier in the first one year also remains a mirage.
Another low point for 2018 was the inability of Nigeria to push out a strong domestic flag carrier into the international market to reciprocate its Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) with 83 countries.
While the likes of Arik Air, Air Peace, Medview Airlines and Overland Airways continue to make inroads into the west African market, their attemps to launch operations into the more lucrative markets in Europe, Asia and America have been frustrated by what the Chairman/CEO of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema described as “refusal of the Federal Government to assist local airlines the dirty aero-politics”.
Onyema told Daily Sun that there was a conspiracy between some foreign airlines and their regulatory agencies to frustrate Nigerian flag carriers from reciprocating BASAs with their countries.
Onyema listed arbitrary taxes, and refusal to cooperate with Nigerian carriers to gain requisite regulatory approvals as some of the tactics deployed by foreign airlines to frustrate
Nigerian airlines. He hinged the boldness by foreign airlines in refusing to cooperate with Nigerian airlines on the realization that the Nigerian government cared little or less about what happens to the fate local airlines on international routes.
The result is that of the N505.2bn generated from ticket sales in Nigeria, it was the 25 foreign airlines operating into Nigeria’s four international airports that made the most ticket sales of N411.6billion (out of the N505.2billion) leaving Nigeria’s eight domestic with a meager N93.6 billion in ticket sales during the year under review.
And this was one sore point in Nigeria’s aviation industry in 2018.
Aside this, local airlines remained burdened by multiple taxation by airport and regulatory agencies. Even with all these charges, many of the airports in the country do not have runway lights and navigational landing aids. Only Lagos, Abuja, Uyo, Port Harcourt airports have the facility to allow night flights.
This means the other airports are only open between 7am and 6pm daily. To this end, airlines can’t fully utilise their airplanes for 24-hours operations.
No airplane or factory machine can be profitable only from 7am to 6pm daylight operations. Airplanes like factory machines are supposed to operate for 24-hours. And no matter the investment in airport infrastructure, it is the airlines that operates into the airports that assist in utilising the airports to increase GDP to the country.
In 2018, the aviation sector contribution to GDP grew from 0.4 per cent to 0.6 per cent.
Analyst, Michael Obokhale says the low contribution of the aviationt sector to GDP was “very embarrassing”.
“We have the abundant potential in the aviation sector but it’s so embarrassing that we have not given it the needed attention required tap the prospects for nation growth,” said Obokhale.
“Between aviation and road transport alone, and if the right infrastructure were to be put on ground, Nigeria could be estimating these two industries contributing about 15 – 20 per cent to national GDP with more than 100,000 jobs created for citizens,” he added.