By Louis Ibah and Ayo Alonge
Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Interjet Nigeria Limited, Seun Peters, in this interview expresses deep worries over the huge capital flight involved in maintaining aircraft overseas.
Peters, a Lawyer, says he is passionate about assembling a group of Nigerians to curb this tendency in Nigeria’s aviation sector.
According to Peters, it is estimated that Nigeria is losing about N21.7billion every 18 months due to the absence of a functional maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility which forces airlines operating in Nigeria to take their aircraft overseas for maintainance. He also spoke on other issues regarding the growth of the aviation sector.
What are your views on the state of Nigerian aviation industry infrastructure?
Our facilities and infrastructure are sub-standard and we can do better. We must locate this unenviable status in our inherent challenges. For instance, how can we be aspiring to be world class when we don’t have adequate power supply; when our water system is suspect and unreliable; when we mount ladders to disembark passengers from the aircraft and still issue tickets manually? These are not insurmountable challenges. If we have the will to change and reverse these flaws, we can conquer them all.
What else do you think the government should do to boost the growth of the industry?
The Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, has unveiled a roadmap for the sector and that is a very bold and laudable thing. What is required thereafter is the political will to see this through. It is also important to carry along the critical stakeholders in the industry. I am conscious of the views and feelings of employees in various government agencies connected to the aviation industry. It is also important that we ensure transparency and best practices so that we can attract the much-needed private international investors.
Do you support occasioning Nigeria’s four major airports?
On the face value, the plan to concession the Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt airports is a good idea. We should however be careful to avoid generating bad blood and unnecessary controversies. To be candid, we need injection of private funds to turn around the aviation sector. If we can attract foreign direct investment, this will have a ripple effect on standards and quality of service, job creation and inflow of foreign exchange for the economy. I believe that the government is on the right path by seeking to concession the four major airports in the first instance.
How soon do you see Nigerians carrying out aircraft maintenance in the country?
There is no magic about floating a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in Nigeria. Such a facility would save the country the millions of dollars that airline owners take out of the country annually to maintain aircraft abroad. We have a viable economy, a large market and a vibrant workforce. What we need is the requisite investment, local or foreign or partnership, to provide the enabling environment in terms of equipments and other ancillary facilities to meet set standards. Like I said earlier, all we require is the mix of right policies and the political will to see things through. If we had made a success of
the assembly plants in Lagos and Kaduna, I am referring to Volkswagen and Peugeot plants, by now we should be aspiring to start same for aircrafts. Countries such as Brazil, Pakistan and India are already building aircrafts. I see no reason why Nigeria cannot maintain and assemble aircraft in this age of ICT and universal science engineering.
Given its capital intensity, do you consider an MRO facility a viable investment?
Our company, in partnership with Diamond Aircrafts of Austria, is already finalizing plans to build a state-of-the-art maintenance facility in Abuja to service Nigeria and other West African countries. But in terms of viability, I think we should be a player and the preferred destination, at least in the sub-continent. With the experience of Interjet, we are confident that our proposed facility in Abuja will be viable and re-position us as a leading aviation sales and maintenance company in Africa.
How has the exchange rate affected business?
It’s unfortunate that a few foreign airlines are finding it difficult to operate owing to scarcity of Forex. Those of us in international business are also feeling the pinch. Like I said earlier, our contract with NCAT has been delayed partly owing to the dearth of foreign exchange. We sympathize with government and hope that the situation normalizes very soon. Recently, the Federal Government made some concession on foreign exchange (Forex) availability to airline operators. That is also part of the enabling environment that government should always create to encourage both indigenous and foreign investors. It’s sad that foreign airlines are finding it difficult to operate in Nigeria with our large population and potentially viable market. There is no reason why Nigeria cannot be the ultimate destination in Africa such as Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa. I think FG’s gesture on Forex is pragmatic and a necessary incentive to stabilize the industry.
What do you think can be done to facilitate consistency in contract agreement and execution in the aviation industry?
I’m aware that the Minister of Finance spoke recently on the need to reform the contract awarding process to make it faster and more efficient so that procurement can be done as soon as necessary documentation is concluded. Government should not only be spending money awarding contracts; it is important that jobs are executed on time and to specifications, so that Nigerians can have value for money spent on their behalf. In the case of Interjet, we are under pressure from our foreign technical partners, Diamond Aircraft Industry of Austria, to make good our contract agreement to supply training aircrafts to NCAT. We have been on this for about two years and it is not giving this country a good image when we cannot satiate contractual obligations.
What do you think Nigeria needs to do to produce pilots with commercial pilot licences (CPL)?
We have two aviation training institutes- one in Zaria and the other in Ilorin. Government has taken steps to upgrade the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, to enable it train pilots for commercial flights. We have experienced instructors; what we need to do now is acquire the necessary modern equipments and facilities to train top class pilots. I don’t have much information on the proposed Aviation University, but I think NCAT is well positioned to assume that role when government finally makes up its mind. I’m aware that the college has trained a lot of pilots from across Africa. It has the goodwill and experience to transform into a University of Aviation.