Players in the Nigerian aviation industry have said the fortunes of the sector in the country have been on the decline and static in the 62 years of independence, despite the potential for growth.
Stakeholders specifically said that as of independence in 1960, the country could boast of a national carrier in Nigeria Airways, excellent maintenance facilities, and well-trained personnel, but decried that 62 years after, the industry has been brought down to its knees due to corruption, policy summersaults, inexperienced personnel, especially at the regulatory level, and free fall of the naira against major foreign currencies.
Engr. Femi Adeniji, the chief executive officer (CEO), NIGAME Aircraft Consultancy Incorporation, based in Florida, United States, in an exclusive interview with Nairametrics, said the aviation industry in Nigeria in the 1960s and 70s, witnessed much more growth than now.
He said the defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways, was flying to virtually all parts of the world, while also maintaining its fleet of aircraft to C-Check in the country.
Adeniji also said when the airline industry was deregulated in the 1980s, the country had over 20 aircraft flying to various cities in the country and within the African continent, while a dollar was just N94k.
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Adeniji stated further that most of the officials appointed into positions in the past 20 years allowed their self-interests to supersede national interest, instead of growing the sector as an economic development, which provides product support for the country.
But he regretted that the sector in the past 20 years, had experienced a massive decline with the death of Nigeria Airways, a massive reduction in the number of domestic airlines, while the scarcity of foreign exchange continues to increase and slow down progress.
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He further alleged that policy summersaults by the government and corruption by its officials had robbed the country of expected growth.
He said: “What killed Nigeria Airways was government interference. I can remember officials were using warrants to travel; the military, armed forces, and government officials were all using this and it took a while before the airline was paid back. For 40 years, Nigeria Airways operated very well, but for the sake of corruption, which was not as much as we have it now, the airline died.
“We were more developed then than now. The naira was more encouraging, too. Right now, corruption and inexperienced personnel are affecting our development. Some decisions are supposed to be taken through common sense. The regulator now slows down developments.
“The Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria used to be the best in Africa for the training of personnel; but today, its development is deteriorating. People now buy certificates, instead of sitting for exams. Nigerian engineers are now uncomfortable when they see engineers from outside the country.”
Capt. Ibrahim Mshelia, the CEO, West Link Aviation, declared that the aviation industry in the past few years had been on the reverse gear.
Mshelia explained that the sector had witnessed mild growth in the past 62 years because of the self-interest of those at the helms of affairs.
“Our industry all along has been going backward. I have put in 40 years now and from my 40 years of experience, the progress is abysmal. It is not equated to Nigeria.
“When I say we are not progressing, I mean we are not progressing because we are supposed to do better. We are capable of doing better. Nigerians who are put in public offices, put their interests before the country. This is where the problem is.”
Mshelia further queried the process leading to the formation of a national carrier for the country after the demise of the former, Nigeria Airways.
He lamented that 62 years after independence, the country no longer had a national carrier, while the one being midwife for the country is shrouded in secrecy with many unanswered questions.
Also, Grp. Capt. John Ojikutu (retd), aviation analyst, said Nigeria has the capacity to do more than it had done in the past 62 years.
Ojikutu specifically said that in the past seven years, the sector has been on standstill, despite the various master plans mapped out by the current government.
According to him, between 2015 and now, the sector had received more financial support to do much more for its programmes like the national carrier, airport development, reconstruction, refurbishing or concessions, Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul (MRO) facilities, aerotropolis and aircraft leasing.
He regretted that the country had achieved less than 30 per cent of its set goals in the past seven years.
Ojikutu maintained that if the federal government had focused its attention on a national carrier project or developed Arik and Aero Airlines into flag carriers as continental and intercontinental airlines in partnership with foreign technical investors and others, the Nigerian aviation industry would have developed and generated revenues for the country.
Also, Mr. Olumide Ohunayo, the director, research, Zenith Travels, said the industry had developed from just one national carrier in the 1960s to many airlines in 2022, while the agencies had grown from a monotonous one to six parastatals.
He, however, lamented that the government agencies were yet to operate as commercial entities, especially by those who provide services, while the interferences in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had prevented it from an independent, unbiased and uninfluenced body.
He mentioned the abrupt suspension of the Air Operator Certificate (AOC) to NG Eagle Airlines as part of such interference by some government officials in the NCAA.
The aviation expert canvassed for the scrapping of the Ministry of Aviation and return responsibility to the Ministry of Transportation as was the case in the past.
“As of today, we have politicised the industry with too many politicians appointed and they put so much pressure on the agencies. Look at the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) for instance, they keep on pushing personnel there, even when they are not needed and it is affecting their finances. Ditto other agencies.
“Look at the way they stopped the licensing of NG Eagle because of pressure. The agencies, especially the NCAA should be independent.