Tinubu Govt Pushes Nigeria’s Aviation Challenges To 2024

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, will have to tackle Nigeria’s 65-year-old aviation challenges in the new year.

The sector continues to battle Infrastructure deficiencies, political interference, safety issues, financial instability, regulatory obstacles, security threats and high operational costs, flight delays, cancellations and high fares.

Some of the unpleasant experiences of air travellers in Nigeria which lingered in 2024 include arbitrary airfares, misplacement and mishandling of passengers’ luggage, unfavourable airport waiting lounges, discourteous airline staff, failure to implement the passengers’ bill of rights, corrupt practices, among others.

This is why an expert, Captain Ado Sanusi, Chief Executive Officer of Aero Contractor, noted that an ineffective regulatory framework was a major setback for the country’s aviation industry in 2023.

But in defense, the former Managing Director of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, Capt. Muhu Musa blamed high-interest rates and operational costs for the challenges in the country’s aviation industry.

According to data from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, the country’s sector, in its about 65 years of existence, has 20 airports, 23 active domestic airlines, 554 licensed pilots, 913 licensed engineers and 1700 cabin personnel.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is an important destination for over 22 foreign carriers. Nigeria currently has Bilateral Air Services Agreements with over 90 countries. Despite this, the country has yet to fully enjoy the economic benefits.

Nigeria Air saga

Nigeria Air, NA, was one of the biggest controversies in Nigeria’s aviation sector and, by extension, the economy in 2023.

Recall that the ex-minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had conducted a controversial unveiling of $300 million worth of purported Nigeria Air on May 26 2023, three days before the end of former president Muhammadu Buhari’s administration after its launch on July 18 2018.

Meanwhile, details revealed that the unveiled airline was a chartered Ethiopia Airline, an operator who owes 49 per cent of the NA project.

After the controversies that surrounded the Nigeria Air and airport concessions, Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, announced its suspension in September until the investigation of findings was presented to President Bola Tinubu.

However, months after the Nigeria Air debacle, Nigerians are yet to hear the outcome of the investigation against Sirika and his accomplices.

Air crashes and incidents in 2023

Last year, several aviation crashes and incidents cast aspersions on the country’s air safety.

Furthermore, the sector’s recent performance at the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, safety audit, scoring 70 per cent, has sparked debate among stakeholders, with some insisting that it was a failure.

For instance, four people narrowly escaped death after a helicopter crashed in the Oba Akran area of Ikeja, Lagos State, on August 1, 2023. The incident occurred close to a branch of the United Bank for Africa. The Lagos State Fire and Rescue Services confirmed the incident.

On November 5, 2023, the Minister of Power, Mr Adebayo Adelabu, and 12 other passengers and flight crew narrowly escaped a tragic fate as their HS 125 aircraft, bearing nationality and registration marks 5N-AMM, operated by Flint Aero, crashed in Ibadan.

A Boeing 737 passenger jet belonging to Aero Contractors Airlines on November 12 crash-landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, leading to the closure of the runway.

At least 62 passengers escaped death on November 14, 2023, as an aircraft belonging to a Nigerian airline, Value Jet skidded off the runway at the Port Harcourt International Airport in Rivers State.

The rise in incidents of plane crashes has created tension among Nigerians over the safety of the country’s airspace.

Sack and replacement of Heads of Aviation Agencies

Last year, the federal government announced the sack and replacement of all heads of aviation agencies in Nigeria.

Similarly, all directors of the ministry were axed barely a week later.

Trapped foreign airlines’ funds

The International Air Transport Association, IATA, estimated that international airlines’ blocked funds in Nigeria rose to $783 million in August 2023.

Although President Bola Tinubu, through Minister Keyamo, directed the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to create a platform for quarterly reconciliatory meetings with foreign airlines to address the backlog of their funds, the trapped funds are yet to be cleared.

However, the Central Bank of Nigeria said it disbursed $61 million to foreign airlines, bringing the cleared forex backlog to $2 billion in three months.

However, the figure of the trapped funds remained high.

Speaking at a press briefing, Kamil Alawadhi, Regional Vice President of Africa and Middle East, said, “Nigeria alone accounts for almost half of blocked or trapped funds valued at $2.57 billion.”

The development has contributed to the threat of some foreign airlines, such as Turkish Airlines, Emirate Airlines, and British Airways, to withdraw from Nigeria.

Experts react

Speaking with DAILY POST on Monday, Capt. John Ojikutu, an industry expert and the CEO of Centurion Aviation Security and Safety Consult, said little has been achieved in Nigeria’s aviation industry from 1999 to 2023.

He stated that despite the industry’s potential for privatization and commercialization, none of Nigeria’s airports has been concessioned in the period under review.

He noted that too much political interference has resulted in various international standards organizations’ low audit grading and low manpower.

Ojikutu stressed that in 2024, if Tinubu’s administration does nothing about the challenges facing the sector, it may cease to exist.

“Nothing better than when we started in 1999. There was no national carrier in 1999, no national carriers or even designated flag carriers 23 years later. Over 90 BASA, but less than five have been honoured, despite the 2000 Acts for Airports Concessions.

“Too much interference from the political office holders at all levels has resulted in the low audit grading by various international aviation standards organizations.

“A low level of manpower training has resulted in inadequate skilled manpower. Lack of regular oversight and enforcement of the Safety and Security Regulations and the investigation of lapses in compliance with the Regulations.

“Irregular periodic maintenance, inspections and checks on the status of the infrastructure and services have contributed to many incidents.

“Irregular reports on the various service providers’ generated revenues are unacceptable. We are yet to pay the foreign airlines the forex to repatriate their ticket sales’ earnings from the over $2.5bn commercial aviation services earnings made by the service providers.

“The foreign airlines that give us 80% of our earnings in commercial aviation are withdrawing. If this should continue in the coming year 2024, our days in the commercial aviation industry are numbered,” he said.

On his part, Dr Alex Nwuba, President of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Nigeria, said 2023 was a turbulent year for Nigeria’s aviation industry.

However, he noted that with the emergence of new leadership across the industry, 2024 is looking better.

“2023 was a turbulent year in aviation. The first part was mired in Hadi Sirika’s attempt to foist the wrong aviation model on the country against the interests of the people, and with the government pushing such an agenda, it was difficult for the private sector to move meaningfully. The industry only survived because Hadi Sirika put round pegs in round holes.

“Jet fuel prices rose, and fares followed, as consumer confidence declined and incidents rose in an industry that appeared to have lost its way.

“By the middle of the year, the industry became a brand new horse but no rider; when the rider came, he didn’t know how to ride. He was also saddled by the last-minute choke points placed by his predecessor.

“Towards the end of the year, the horse rider had taken lessons and put together a good team, killed off some weedlike projects and turned on the light in the tunnel, offering hope for a better future.

“Obviously, the future is looking better; some of the knotty issues like the Ethiopian Nigeria Air are off the radar; we have a new NCAA DG committed to bringing the much-needed transformation, and the overall Agency structure will be reworked.

“Fares won’t come down overnight to spur demand, but I’m aware there are efforts by the Minister and the NCAA to work cooperatively and independently as is required by law to improve the sector”, he told DAILY POST

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