By Lawani Mikairu
The civil aviation in Nigeria witnessed some glorious moments in 2018, just as some events in the year under review made some aviation stakeholders and watchers ask when will Nigeria civil aviation come of age.
Payment of defunct Nigeria Airways’ ex-workers
The happiest moment, according to some stakeholders was when the Federal government in October commenced the payment of the gratuity of the ex-workers of the defunct Nigeria Airways who had been expecting their severance benefits for more than a decade after the government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo liquidated the then national carrier.
Some of the retirees confirmed that they started receiving payment alerts few days after the completion of their verification and data processes that lasted two weeks. Within a week of commencement, all the retirees and the next of kin of those who have passed on were paid.
The sum of N45billion naira was disbursed to the former workers of the airways as the federal government promised to pay half of their entitlement now while the balance will be paid within the next six months.
The exercise was originally scheduled to end on Monday, October 22, 2018, but because of the hiccups during the verification and data processes, the closing date was open. About 5,968 retirees were beneficiaries of the exercise and everyone who was captured and cleared by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, were paid their due.
Commissioning of new airport terminals
Another high point was when President Muhammadu Buhari officially commissioned the new terminal of the Port Harcourt International Airport. The terminal was one of the four valued at $600million dollars funded by the Chinese-Nigeria initiative. The three other terminals are the new terminal of the Murtal Muhahammed International Airport, Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, and Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano.
The Port Harcourt Airport commissioning was followed by the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, which was also commissioned by the President on 20th December. Speaking at the commissioning ceremony in Port Harcourt, President Buhari said it was part of his electoral promises to upgrade Nigeria’s transport infrastructure in all geo political zones of the country.
He said the commissioning was a significant landmark for international travellers especially those in the South-South region. According to him, “not much was done after these airports were built in the 70s and 80s to increase handling capacity of the airports and so we needed to take decisive steps to ensure that our terminals meet the minimum international global standards”
“In the 2017 budget, I promised to upgrade Nigeria’s transport and complete a number of projects that will be beneficiary to the nation economically and these include construction of new terminals, railways and power projects”.
Air Peace purchase agreement with Boeing
Another glorious moment for Nigeria domestic airline in the year was when Air Peace airline signed multi-million dollars purchase agreement with aircraft manufacturer, Boeing. The deal entails Air Peace placing a firm order for 10 Boeing 737 Max 8 planes which will be supplied within the shortest possible time to the airline. This purchase makes Air Peace the first airline in West Africa to own 10 new 737 MAX aircraft.
The purchase deal which was signed by Mr Allen Onyema, Chairman, Air Peace Air, on behalf of the airline, and Mr Larry Tolliver, Boeing Sales Director, West Africa, on behalf of Boeing Corporation Inc. was witnessed by the United States of America Consul General to Nigeria, Mr John Bray.
Speaking during the signing ceremony in Lagos, Onyema said the arrival of the 10 new aircraft will increase the airline fleet size to 37 as it currently has 27, adding that the airline was fully ready for international flight operations to Europe and the United States.
According to Onyema : “We have made some payments to Boeing already and the aircraft will soon arrive the country. Boeing has given us a lot of incentives ranging from training, spare parts and other support worth millions of dollars to help us achieve smooth entry into the market”.
“We are happy that in few years, Air Peace will be adding another 5000 jobs to the country’s aviation sector. We are not waiting for the government to do this for us. We want to do this by ourselves.”
On why the airline ordered 10 737 MAX aircraft, he said that this brand of new aircraft are more fuel efficient than the classic that the airline currently uses, attract lower maintenance costs and is customer friendly.
Speaking also at the ceremony, John Bray, United States Consul General noted that this development will further strengthen the relatioship between the United States and Nigeria and assured Air Peace of the support of his country’s government. He commended Air Peace and its chairman for the feat. On his part, the Sales Director of Boeing, Mr. Larry Tolliver praised Air Peace for the feat. The new aircraft, he assured, would drastically cut the airline’s cost of operations.
Shutting down of terminal by workers’ unions
One of the low moments of the civil aviation in the country was when the aviation workers unions shut down the operations of one of the two domestic terminals at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, MMA2, operated by Bi-Counrtney Aviation Services, BASL. The closure of the terminal which lasted for two days led to airlines operating from the terminal losing millions of naira and temporarily relocating their operations to the General Aviation Terminal , GAT, which is managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN.
The relocation of the airlines became necessary as the siege on MMA2 by aviation unions made it impossible for the airlines to carry out their operations at the terminal. The affected airlines were Dana Air , Med-View Air , Aero Contractors, Azman Air and Max Air.
On the second day of the siege, Bi-Counrtney Aviation Services, BASL, operator of MMA2, had to deploy hefty bouncers, dogs and used the trucks of their subsidiary, Stabilini, to block the exit and entrance gates of the terminal to prevent the union members from having direct access to the gates. The dogs and bouncers were there until the civil aviation regulator, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, intervened and resolved the industrial dispute the unions had with BASL.
The sack of 60 members
of staff by Med-View
Some stakeholders said another low point was when Med-View Airline placed 60 members of the airline staff on redundancy and asked them to go home until the business fortune of the airline improves.
Explaining the reasons for the rationalization of the effected staff, Alhaji Isiaq Na-Allah, Executive Director, Business Development, Med-View Airline said “Going by the realities of the prevailing economic situation, Med-View Airline is currently restructuring in order to fully maximize its operation and prepare adequately for the challenges ahead”.
“In the course of this exercise, some staff, about 60 in numbers, were required to step aside as a result of downsizing with a genuine intention to recall them as soon as situation improves as stated in our letter to the affected staff”.
“The decision by management on this exercise though tough is predicated on the need to achieve the best result with a minimum but adequate work force. All the Staff affected have been adequately communicated”, he said.
The stillborn of national carrier
The inability of the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika to keep the promise of delivering a national airline for the country before December, 2018 was also regarded as a low moment for the industry. Some stakeholders felt the national airline would have provided jobs for the teeming unemployed youths and pilots.
It will be recalled that on 17th July this year, the federal government unveiled the name and the logo of the national carrier. This was done by the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, at Farnborough International Air show in London. He had said the carrier will be private sector-led and driven. “It is a business, not a social service. Government will not be involved in running it or deciding who runs it. The investors will have full responsibility for this and the Nigerian Government will not own more than 5% (maximum) of the new National Carrier. Government will not be involved in running it or deciding who runs it,” Sirika had said.
Before the decision to suspend the venture, the federal government was said to have already spent more than $400 million on the project.
However, domestic airline operators under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria, AON, commended the Federal government for suspending the establishment of national carrier, the Nigeria Air, arguing that the current state of the economy cannot sustain the venture while the operators argued hat what the country needed were strong private airlines.