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‘Aviation needs guarantee of new aircraft, not financial support’

By Udeme Clement

Alhaji Bello Ahmed Alkali is a stakeholder in the aviation sector. He has being in the industry for 21 years now. He was a station manager with Triax Airline, general manager, Tran-Saharan Air, regional manager, Chanchangi Airline, general manger Rahamaniya and director of operations with Trade-Craft. He speaks on the need for government to ensure duty free importation of airplanes spare parts, to address multiple taxation and guarantees purchase of new craft for serious operators, instead of giving financial support.

Since the Dana crash, everyone is calling for an overhaul in the sector, do you share this opinion?

To start with, when I joined the sector in 1991, l knew some airlines that had 36, 11, 22, 5, and 7 airplanes. Today, none of them is operating except just one that is still being mentioned. That time, Nigerian Airways was the supplier of pilots, engineers and everything needed in the sector.

They had the best trained professionals. Every private airline started from the magnanimity of Nigerian Airways. I worked with one of the pilots who flew Nigerian Airways 727 into Nigeria . These airlines had managements and chief executives who had good intentions to run the business but suddenly everything disappeared.

The regulators are doing very well in following the rules and check-list but the major problem is mismanagement on the part of the operators. Government should tackle multiple-taxation, allows duty free importation of spare parts for airlines and guarantees purchase of new craft for serious operators, instead of giving financial support.

For instance, most airline operators brought philanthropy into their businesses, instead of running them as commercial ventures to make profits in order to stay afloat. For example, your chairman could tell you to fly his friend coming in from Kaduna , or his friend going to Calabar, without carrying passengers, thereby giving the airline huge overhead costs.

When I was a station manager, my chairman instructed me one time to drop every passenger in his airplane just to fly his friend to Maiduguri . I had no option than to follow his instruction because he owned the business.

What exactly do you think is working against the development of aviation industry in Nigeria ?

Sincerely, with over 20 years of experience I can not proffer a solution to what is happening in the sector. There is a peculiar problem that you and I can not explain.  May be mismanagement is in-built in us. For instance, we tried so much to create an airline for Nigeria after the exit of Nigerian Airways, till now we have nothing to show for it. We had Nigerian Global, Virgin Nigeria and so many others, yet nothing seems to work.

For instance, Sir Richard Branson who is behind Virgin Airline is a shrewd business man. He owns Virgin Atlantic. I witnessed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Virgin Nigeria. He bought over 51 per cent shares of Virgin Nigeria but today, Virgin Nigeria is no more.

Branson has airline companies in Australia , America and other countries doing very well. He simply could not operate with Nigerian context. If an astute business man like Branson can’t not do business in Nigeria , who can do it? I saw many airlines opened and folded up just like that. There is an individual that a particular government gave 11 airplanes to operate in Nigeria today the business is no more.

How will you rate the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NACC)?

The NCAA of today is not the NCAA of 10 years ago. It has become so specialised that you must have the qualification to work as an aircraft inspector. NCAA has done very well and must be commended. For instance, you can not buy Category-One certification anywhere in the world.

NCAA worked tirelessly to earn Nigeria Category-One certification. There is absolutely nothing wrong with NCAA because they certify airplanes based on the manufacturers approval of the components.  That is why today Arik can fly to New York , London and other places.

So, why are people asking for the removal of the DG of NACC?

Like I said, it is the same Nigerian factor. The reality is that accident can happen any time. The issue of plane crash is not limited to Nigeria because it has become a global problem.  A brand new car can collapse just like a brand new aircraft can crash. It is only in Nigeria that when such a thing happens people begin to talk carelessly. In the industry we have rules and check-list that operators are expected to follow.

From 1991 till 2012, operators in the industry are still following the check-list as expected but I’m shocked to here people talked about cutting corners. There is nothing like that because aviation is a specialised sector, which requires high level of professionalism.

No pilot that has his life and a family would fly an aircraft that is faulty. When an accident happens people should wait for investigations to be concluded before speculating. In the case of Dana air, the black box had been found, so people must wait for the out come of the findings.

Those who are saying the engine of the aircraft was bad or the plane was faulty are just talking what they do not understand. That aircraft was not manufactured in Nigeria and was not flown by a Nigerian. Why are people from other countries not talking apart from Nigerians?

What is the function of the black box?

It is an instrument inside the aircraft that records all the activities involved with the movement of the aeroplane from when the flight begins until landing at the final destination. For example, the speed limits the height, the landing speed and even communication with the control tower.

As a stakeholder, can you tell us precisely how the sector works?

In the past we had a situation where people who had the financial capacity came into the sector to start an airline business in collaboration with technical partners. After a short period the business collapsed due to poor management, which is basically the major problem in this country.

That was what killed Nigerian Airways and other airlines. Now people are calling on government. Is government going to business your business for you?  Government can only create an enabling environment in terms of reducing the cost of taxes, fuel, allowing you to buy dollars from banks with government official rate to reduce your overhead costs in the business. But if you are not a good manager, who is prudent in utilising resources adequately the business can still collapse.

I had a boss who believes in just giving out money to people even when it is not necessary. That is his style and any day he does not have money to give out to people it becomes a problem. He ran an airline business. The aircraft worked in the morning and returned in the evening with all the money made for the day squandered the same evening.

We had cases of chief executives of airlines going to the counters to collect money without records. I knew some people who got airplanes from other countries just to remit few dollars at the end of every month but they still could not meet up, due to bad management.

In that case, what do you think government can do to revamp the sector?

Government can assist airline operators by way of guaranteeing them acquisition of brand new aircrafts. For instance, you have Boeing aircraft manufacturer producing Boeing 737, so government can discuss with the manufacturer to ensure acquisition of airplanes while Boeing company gets his guarantee from government. That way, the manufacturer will be free to do business with Nigeria . Also, we will have brand new airplanes flying our airspace because this is what most people want.

I do not believe in government giving anyone financial support because it will not solve our problem, rather it compounds the problem. Boeing is a recognised American company and our government has good relations with American government. All they need to do is contact them to help us out in guaranteeing purchase of modern aircrafts.

If we have modern airplanes, we will spend less money in maintenance, fuel and less cost of operations. I am not saying the airplanes flying now are not good. No, on the contrary, the purchase guarantee will build connectivity between the government and Boeing company to bring in more modern airplanes


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