Getting it right in 2017
For local carriers, 2016 was tough. They contended with shortage of aviation fuel and scarcity of foreign exchange, among others. Will business be better this year? KELVIN OSA-OKUNBOR writes that the Federal Government will need to do more to help the industry.
What lies ahead in the aviation industry in 2017? Nigerians who are asking this question need not look further.
Reason: the government has given its nod for the airports’ security architecture overhaul.
Following the presidential approval last week, airport security workers are now to be trained to use arms like their counterparts in the United States.
Expectedly, the Ministries of Aviation and Interior are already working on a template for the training of airport security workers to enable them function like their colleagues in the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Use of arms at airports
If all goes well, the airport security workers are to be trained on the use of K-9 dogs, handcuffs, batons and light weapons.
This measure, experts said, had become imperative because of new threats to airports security globally.
But Selective Securities Limited Managing Director, Ayo Obilana, said the government should go beyond security workers’training in arms handling.
He said, for example, if the agency takes charge of access control at the airport, it would boost harmony in the execution of the national airport security programme.
This vital issue, Obilana said, should form the major assignment of the government in the year.
The Nigerian Air Force, Nigerian Police, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Aviation Security Personnel (AVSEC), Department of State Security (DSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Security Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), and others man various screening points at airports.
Aside airports security, stakeholders are worried over how the government intends to deliver its proposed private sector-driven national airline in the year and how it intends to navigate around its ambitious airports concession programme.
These proposals are causing anxiety in the sector, over what modality the government intends to adopt for its execution.
The anxiety, industry watchers said, was predicated on controversies surrounding the project.
Closure of Abuja Airport for repairs
Though aviation has courted scandals and controversies in the last few years, experts are worried that the year may have started on similar note, following concerns being expressed by some foreign carriers over plans to use Kaduna Airport as an alternate aerodrome, while the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, is closed for runway repairs in March.
The government said the Abuja Airport would be closed for six weeks to enable it fix the dilapidated runway.
As one of the developments to watch in 2017, experts are worried that it will take the government such long time to address a fundamental safety matter.
According to the Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika, the Abuja Airport runway was designed in 1982 to last for 20 years.
The runway, Sirika said, has lasted 34 years. He said further use of the runway could expose it to collapse.
The closure of the Abuja Airport, experts said, would have negative effects on passengers, airline operators, travel agents, hoteliers, car hire another service providers.
Fixing the Abuja Airport runway, experts said, could be one of the major developments that would shape activities in the sector in the year, adding that the airport is the second busiest airport in the country’s political capital.
Apart from the huge cost required by carriers to mobilise men and materials to Kaduna for scheduled flights, attendant challenges bordering on the state of the terminal, security and availability of aviation fuel remain key areas to watch in 2017.
Though Sirika said a decision had not been taken on the matter, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) Chairman, Captain Nogie Meggison has proposed partial closure.
In the year, stakeholders expect the government to consider seriously the issue of airport perimeter and security fencing in line with Annex 17 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
If the government adopts this suggestion, it will reduce the recurrence of stowaways and other unlawful acts, which could cause unlawful interference to civil aviation.
Airport perimeter and security fencing
According to a security expert, and member, Aviation Roundtable, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), airport perimeter and security fencing should be given priority by the government in the year.
He said compliance with Annex 17 is a global requirement that member-states of ICAO, including Nigeria, must adhere to.
Besides airport perimeter fencing, experts said, the government should focus on poor radio communication in the airspace to address the serious gap, leading to what many pilots now describe as “ blind spots“.
Overhaul of obselete equipment
Towards this end, they canvass the overhaul of obsolete air navigation equipment managed by the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
These include the upgrade of the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) components, switch of fixed telecom equipment to Aeronautical Information System (AIS) automation.
For optimal utilisation of equipment to be acquired by the airspace agency, experts said, recruitment of aeronautical professionals, including air traffic controllers and engineers, would help improve service delivery.
Significantly, the government should embark on an aggressive debt recovery drive to enable agencies have enough funds to carry out ambitious projects.
Stakeholders look forward to what will become of the airports remodeling projects. They said work should resume at the terminals to meet the deadlines set for their completion.
Completion of terminals
Specifically, the experts are asking if the four international airport terminals built by the Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), with the $500 million loan secured from the Chinese Import-Export Bank, will be completed.
The terminals are at various stages of completion in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt.
It is unkown when the international airport in Enugu and the airport terminal in Bayelsa will be completed.
Better service delivery by carriers
In the year, stakeholders expect improvement in flight services from both local and foreign carriers.
But, some passengers have expressed worry over the failure of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to oversee Arik Air for its many infractions against passengers.
Passengers expect Arik Air to put up a good showing as the carrier by keeping to its flights schedule. This, they believed, would reduce frequent fracas between passengers and its workers.
Passengers are optimistic that Arik Air and other carriers on international routes will seek lasting solutions to incidents of short- landed luggage in the year, to make their travel experience seamless.
Apart from short-landed luggage, passengers look forward to improvement in flight services.
Competition among domestic carriers
Competition among domestic carriers will be keener this year, as operators are designing business models, to not only keep them afloat, but also remain market leaders in the routes they operate into.
Some carriers: Medview Airlines, Overland Airways and Air Peace, are likely to alter the stakes in the domestic scene as they up their games in venturing into new routes within and outside the country.
According to Medview Airlines Managing Director, Muneer Bankole, service delivery will boost airlinespatronage in 2017, if operators do the right things.
Return of Aero
Meanwhile, experts said the return of Aero Airlines after a four-month closure last year is one of the major developments to watch out for in 2017.
The possibility of getting its market share back as the oldest domestic carrier remains slim, as its manager’s grapple with its turnaround strategy.
It is unclear if IRS Airlines, Afrijet Airlines, Discovery Air, and Chanchangi Airlines will bounce back this year, as the operating environment gets harsher.
No thanks to high operating costs, oscillating price of aviation fuel, insurance premium and huge offshore cost for aircraft maintenance.
Though still in the pipelines, stakeholders look forward to the setting up of an Aviation Leasing Company, which, according to Sirika, would make it convenient for airlines to acquire aircraft from lessors.
Stakeholders expect the restructuring of aviation agencies to make them more efficient and effective.
CEOs of agencies
What will become the fate of chief executives of aviation agencies, including FAAN, NAMA, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Meteorological Services (NIMET), Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) and the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) hangs in the balance in the year.
Industry watchers predict a clean sweep of these chief executives, who appear to use archaic ideas on how to move their agencies forward.
Sirika in an interview said. He said: “One has found out that agencies and parastatals within the industry have become such a burden that it is very difficult to operate them. Some of them are not operating or nearly all of them are not operating according to the act that established them or according to ICAO Standard and Recommended Practices.
“There is an urgent need to reposition them to ensure that they comply with Act and also to comply with ICAO Standard and Recommended Practices. Some of them are bogus, over-staff, inefficient and the only way is to begin the process of reorganising and restructuring them for efficiency and better service delivery.”
He said on his plans for 2017: “There are quite a number of project that we will do in 2017. I want to say this is the year we will flag-off the national carrier itself. This is also the year we will go into the concession of our four airports. This is also the year we will complete the transforming of Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria into an ICAO Centre of Excellence.
“I am sure it is the same year all our aviation agencies will be streamlined and follow the Act that establishes them. This is also the year that Nigerian Civil Aviation Act will be reviewed and approved, hopefully, as new set of laws guiding our operations.
“I know also that this year, by God’s grace, we will receive quite a number of our personnel that have gone on training to enrich themselves.
“I will like to say that we will like to commence if we can hopefully, this year, begin the exportation of agricultural produce, especially perishable items through air transportation.”
Whether Sirika will deliver on these promises lies in the belly of time.