CHARLES KUMOLU navigates through the aviation sector before 2011 till date and writes that it would be in the interest of the Federal Government to  sustain the gains recorded in the sector  lately.

IN 2011, President National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers ,NAAPE, Mr. Balami Isaac had called on President Goodluck Jonathan to appoint a professional as Minister of Aviation, stating that the challenges the industry was faced with were surmountable especially with an expert at the helm of affairs.

He also said the industry could be resuscitated if government deployed professionals into the ministry, as that had been one of the major problems militating against the sector’s growth over time.

Besides Belami’s assertions which were not generally unfounded then given the level of decay in the sector, an investigative report by Vanguard Features,VF, in 2010 titled: Nigerian Airports: From Safety Tales to Infrastructural Collaspe, also presented the pathetic picture of the sector before 2012.

*Airport

Infrastructural decay: Excerpts from that report read thus: ‘’Even the blind would know all is not well with most airports across the country.  The reason for this is not far fetched. Infrastructural  decay due to lack of maintenance of facilities. From every indication, it does seem as though the agency in charge of our airports is either helpless or handicap as decay slide from bad to terrible. Observers are of the view that  there is  no reason for the agency to allow the situation to get so bad before facilities are fixed. But the question that begs an answer is: How did we get to this sorry path?

Physical infrastructure

It further said, ‘’Apart from physical infrastructure, it was gathered that pieces of equipment like fire tenders across the country are as old as twenty five to thirty years. This situation, put the fire fighters under undue stress and risks to their personal lives, as the fire tenders are being used against international best practices. Same sad story can also be  told of the absence of Airfield Lighting System which makes it impossible for planes to take off and land at night at the local wing of MM1.

Following this, planes usually taxi down to the International wing for night operations, thereby resulting to waste of aviation fuel. Beyond these, VF checks revealed that there are visible problems like poor maintenance culture, maladministration, inconsistencies in government policies, poor funding of the industry and the dearth of professionals among others.’’

Though the neglect that led to the collapsed state of the sector, pre-dated the time of VF’s report, less than one year after stories about airport remodeling project made the headlines. Specifically, then Minister of Aviation Mrs. Fidelia Njeze, announced plans to embark on the rebuilding of new terminals for the nation’s airports.

‘’Government has gone ahead to also approve that we remodel our airports especially the terminals to meet international standards; what we see when we travel, even in the smallest countries in Africa, they have modern terminals; those terminals are so obsolete and we are trying to go modern and I want to assure you that in less than one year, we will start seeing knock down of some of these old terminals and bring up modern,” she noted. But expectedly, many dismissed the news as empty promise.

Deluge of doubts: But the the deluge of doubts

that trailed the commencement of remodelling across Nigeria, started giving way to rays of hope, following the commencement of the projects in 2011 by immediate past minister, Princess Stella Oduah.

As soon as she resumed duties on July 4, 2011, she corroborated earlier assertions that the sector was in dire need of infrastructure revival, training and manpower development, whether she achieved it does not seem to be in contention, VF, gathered.

‘’With all sense of fairness and objective, honour and kudos should be given to who ever deserves it. We were all witnesses to the monumental embarrassment our airports represented in the past. It is to the credit of the minister and the federal government because with funds, she would not have performed excellently like this. Though it is unfortunate that the system consumed her, ‘’Alhaji Gamba Mayana told this writer aboard a Lagos bound Arik aircraft in Sokoto.

Mayana’s submission notwithstanding, further checks revealed that the general opinions, acknowledged that the issues in the sector ceased from being safety tales and infrastructural collapse.

An elated General Secretary, Nigeria Aviation Professional Association, NAPA, Comrade Razaq Saidu, exclaimed thus in that regard: ‘’We asked the government to allow professionals mange aviation and this woman agreed.”

Going further he said, ‘’she put in place the know-how at all the parastals,’’ suggesting that, ‘’the incoming minister of aviation should improve on all reforms, remodels embarked upon by Princes Stella Oduah.’’

The NAPA scribe, did not stop at cautioning that;’’ any contrary agenda will be one step forward, two steps backward it shall result into disorder. The woman did a good job during her tenure which should not be wished away .’’

Still cautioning, he added: ‘’unless any new minister of aviation improves on the good work of Oduah, the sector will experience serious setback and Cert 1 could be a thing of the past.’’

Supporting Saidu’s submissions, a document by the Ministry, obtained by VF specifically acknowledged there has been a robust revision of the Civil Aviation National Policy for the first time in over 12 years..

The document titled: Transformation At A Glance, Federal Ministry of Aviation, said: ‘’For the first time in over three decades, all 22 federally-owned airports across the country have been completely remodelled; resulting in improved passenger experience Also for the first time, 16 airports close to the nation’s food baskets have been designated for Perishable Cargo to enhance preservation, conditioning and transportation of perishable cargo in accordance with international standards and best practice.

Sustainability fears: ‘’For the first time also, five modern, international passenger terminals are being constructed simultaneously in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu. Obsolete power infrastructure are being replaced/upgraded across major airports in the country. Security infrastructure are also being replaced/upgraded to cope with emerging security challenges.’’

Instrument landing systems

Still giving a breakdown of things that happened in the sector in the last two years, the document said, ‘’Fire-fighting infrastructure now state-of the art across the airports. Installation of cutting-edge navigational aids and Instruments Landing Systems (ILS), including runway lights and Total Radar Coverage (TRACON) to enhance air safety. Installation of modern, state-of-the-art Communication and Surveillance infrastructure, making communication between Air Traffic Controllers (ATC’s) and Pilots much more seamless.’’

It was also gathered that the sector witnessed the procurement and installed an Accident Investigation and Analysis Laboratory in Nigeria.

Having highlighted these, which VF also reliably gathered from other stakeholders, represented an insight into  aviation under 0duah, the document re-echoed the views of others, who spoke to VF earlier.

‘’Over 20,000 jobs have been created in the aviation sector in the past two and a half years following construction/remodeling works on 22 airports and five new International terminals. These laudable programmes/policies must be sustained in order not to retard the tremendous progress already recorded in the sector in the past two and a half years,’’ it added.

Window dressing: The sustainability of this however, is still in doubt, following Nigeria’s seeming culture of truncating and abandoning projects.

Chairman Air Logistics, Dr Eddy Damina is among those entertaining such fears.

Damina, who also digressed into the politics of Oduah’s departure from the ministry, said, ‘’I went out of my way to investigate this matter because I believe we must never sacrifice development at the altar of politics. It must always be about our people, the good people of Nigeria and no one should disrespect us.

In years to come, I think Nigerians will look back and give retrospective gratitude to this extraordinary Nigerian who fought on the side of the people against a “relentless army of unpatriotic citizens with parochial interest”

Not done, he said, ‘’She has done well and posterity will judge her.”  Media comments from her critics alleging the renovations carried out at the airports were “cosmetic and window dressing” found apt response from the highly Revered Bishop Kukah who said that “If what Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah did in Aviation is window dressing then let other public servants window dress in their various ministries and parastatals so the masses can feel their impact”I have absolute faith that President Good Luck Jonathan will appoint a successor who will build on the gains already recorded in the sector.”

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.