Years after the federal government promised to ensure Nigeria had an aircraft maintenance hangar, privately or publicly-owned, airlines in the country are still faced with the challenge of taking out their air planes for overhaul.
Beyond the capital flight that results from money taken out of the country by foreign airlines who, through extra frequencies and multiple entries, make so much from Nigeria, aircraft maintenance had also been identified as another source of capital flight because of absence of a hangar or maintenance, repair and overhaul, MRO, facility in Nigeria.
Vanguard gathered most of the airlines that have closed shops in the country did so partly because of extra cost incurred from taking their planes out for overhaul. Aside from A and B checks, which some airlines could do in the country, there is no facility for airlines to conduct comprehensive C and D checks in the country.
To conduct a C checks overseas, it was learnt that airlines cough out as much as $150,000 per aircraft, and such checks are usually done between six and twelve months, depending, however, on the number of hours flown by the plane. For D checks, cost could run into millions of U.S. Dollars.
The fact that such maintenance is done in foreign exchange makes things more difficult for the airlines. What had been the situation is the enrichment of such countries as Ethiopia, Morocco and South Africa, where airlines in the country take their aircraft for comprehensive checks. This list is exclusive of maintenance, repair and overhaul, MRO, centres in Europe and America.
In the past, so much noise was made about establishing a national hangar, which would be government-owned. But considering the thinking of the current government which had always declared that government had no business in running businesses because of its lack of core competence in this area, it has become obvious that a national hangar in the real sense of the world can no longer be attained.
This is where news of plans by some airlines in the country to build aircraft hangars comes in a cheering one. Besides Arik Air, which had spoken of building an ultra-modern hangar in Lagos, Air Nigeria has also declared its intention to build one in the country. Officials of the two airlines said beyond using the hangars for their own operations, other airlines in Nigeria could take advantage of the facility for a fee.
Experts have said it would be much more affordable for airlines in the country to have their aircraft checks done here than take them overseas and be able to save themselves and the country money. Moreover, there is no such facility in the entire West and Central Africa. Therefore, if there is one in Nigeria, the country automatically becomes a hub of aircraft maintenance in the region, and that means more foreign exchange for the country.
Declaring Arik Air’s intention to build an ultra-modern hangar, the airline’s Chairman, Sir Joseph Arumemi-Ikhide, had told newsmen that maintaining the airline’s fleet in Nigeria would save the airline a lot of money and reduce its operational cost.
That also is the thinking of Air Nigeria management. Several Nigerian carriers have today collapsed because of their inability to raise the necessary funds in hard currencies to conduct mandatory C checks for their planes. Aside from Spaceworld, Dasab and Fresh Airlines, which had been shut out of existence, partly by challenges arising from such requirements, Chanchangi Airlines has also just joined the fray.
If the airlines are suffering the overhang of absence of a maintenance hangar, the larger Nigerian economy is the greatest sufferer through capital flight. On the last count, capital flight through the aviation sector, in the estimate given by former Aviation Minister, Babatunde Omotoba, was put at about N90 billion annually. It is interesting to note that much of this figure is taken by cost of aircraft maintenance abroad.
Therefore, for airlines that have indicated interest in building the facility in the country, the federal government would do well to fast-track their approval processes, and also allocate lands for the purpose. It is necessary to state that whatever structures are built in any of the country’s airports remain government properties, which would only be managed for sometime by private developers before handing them over.
Besides, as an FAA (U.S. Federal Aviation Administration) Category 1 state, Nigeria cannot afford not to have a maintenance hangar. It will promote safety, reduce capital flight and earn the country foreign exchange.