By Lawani Mikairu
Mr Herbert Odika, currently a Senior Tutor, Aviation Operations at Stanstead Airport College, United Kingdom was Zonal Commercial Manager and Regional Manager, NAHCOaviance from February 2006 – June 2011 . In this interview with selected aviation reporters he talks about Nigeria aviation, how Nigeria airports can be made viable. Excerpts :
By Lawani Mikairu
When asked his opinion of Nigeria aviation in terms of infrastructural development and passenger travel, he said, “I am always happy to be back home. I am in touch with what has been happening in the industry and I must say that the industry has taken a bit of a dip and unfortunately a negative dip in terms of infrastructure development. Yes, we do have Abuja Airport being developed at the moment. I am made to understand that it was commissioned recently. One thing we look at, regardless of the amount of traffic which is not encouraging compared to the population of the country, is that our airports are not that viable”.
“ I remember about a year or two ago, there was a lot of noise about concessionaire plans on the airports. An airport that cannot boast of more than 50 flights a day is not seen in the eyes of any private investor as a viable airport to purchase. I am sorry to say that the overheads the airports especially Lagos and Abuja airports are carrying will not be attractive to any investor when they look at manpower costs, operational costs in terms of power issues. They are not viable at all”.
On passengers travel , Odika said: “Cost of tickets are not affordable in Nigeria. So for 2018 I must say and this has had a ripple effect on flights across other countries coming into Nigeria because when you complain, the airline will tell you that operating costs coming into Nigeria is high and very high taxes obviously affect them and to remain afloat and in profit, the charges will have to be passed down to the passengers at the end of the day. So to answer your question, the industry is not moving”.
“ I have heard a lot about investors coming in, which I want to touch on. I don’t know how true that is, I am still doing my research, bringing in 100 brand new 737 Max 8. Now, before you think of doing that, you look at the statistics, how many people can afford air travel? Is air travel affordable? Will there be concessions in terms of landing charges, NCAA royalties, and navigational charges? Will there be discounts? Or will there be waivers to encourage the airline to stabilize before they return? If these things are not in place, like all other airlines that have come and operated in the country, they will start and fail”.
On regulation of the industry by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, he said : “ One thing I must stress here is that we are gradually moving from civil aviation to a compromised aviation. I am going to explain what I mean by that. Compromised aviation in the sense that when we had our so-called national carrier so to speak, when Nigeria Airways went into liquidation around the 2004 mark, you would remember that there were a lot of crashes. You will recall quite a few planes went down and that’s because they relied on the national carrier at the time to get certain things to keep their planes afloat. When Nigeria Airways went into liquidation, it was very difficult for them to manage on their own and they started compromising”.
“ Now this is where we have issues with the regulatory bodies that compromise things. I mentioned this a few years ago when I was still working in the airport, that one of the airlines which I don’t want to mention their names had an aircraft that was faulty for so many years and that airline eventually went down and I checked the registration number because I was in the UK when the plane went down. I was told that it was that very aircraft that went down. I wasn’t surprised because when you have a regulatory body that is not doing their job, checking, ensuring that safety issues are checked regularly then when issues come up, these are things to expect”.
“ In recent times, a domestic flight carrying some dignitaries I believe which included one of the serving ministers nearly went down because a weather report was not taken. These are aviation rules. Before you take off the weather report must be taken , to ensure that the weather is safe from origin to destination. We take a lot of things for granted in this industry and we are not going anywhere with this. This is my observation for 2018”.
On how we should run our local airlines or what should be done to make our airlines and airports viable compared to the clime where he currently works , he said : “First, we preach safety. Aviation thrives on safety. SSA – Safety , Speed and Accuracy. These are three things that make aviation work . When you have a compromised regulator that does not check to ensure that or compromised in the sense that in some cases the airlines are allowed to pay for their training and all that, therefore, they don’t have a say in terms of how they regulate them, you will find that you will always have safety compromises. This is one area”.
“Secondly, I talked about this three years ago, Boeing 737 is a beautiful aircraft, no doubt about that. And I will still stress this until somebody is ready to listen that Boeing 737s are not domestic aircraft. The 737 is a regional aircraft that has up to 6 hours resistance. So a lot of airlines that know what they are doing, I can mention a few that actually operate 737 aircraft, a few airlines, Ethiopian airlines do five hour flights on these aircraft and the charges obviously to fly to Addis Ababa run into over 100,000 – 200,000 depending on the time of year”.
“ You tell me that you have a 737 that aviation fuel on a return flight will cost over half a million naira and you have twenty passengers that have paid 30,000 naira for a flight to Abuja. That’s N600,000. That does not even cover aviation fuel costs. The 737 at full capacity cannot carry up to a ton of cargo. Do we know why one of the airlines, which I don’t want to mention their names still maintain their aircraft type even with all the pressure from the regulatory bodies, from the public? It’s because the vessel allows them to carry enough cargo to stay afloat. That is why they maintain the aircraft type that they use”.
“ As I will say here and I have said over the years, there’s an airline in the industry that understands the terrain that is using the right kind of aircraft for our particular terrain. You don’t listen to public cry. Aviation is not about fashion. Oh it is not a big plane, I won’t go in! They cost money to run. So we need to reintroduce smaller aircraft. On our pilots, the issue is that many of our pilots do their type rating on Boeing sets because it is cheaper than a lot of their competitors like Airbus and other manufacturers. So you find that everybody comes in here with their Boeing 737 license to operate and the airlines are not prepared to spend to retrain them”.
“ I have heard Arik Air complain about things in the past where they have had people that they trained move over to other airlines because they are more attractive. So the aircraft type, number 1, what we operate with in domestic is wrong. At every 80 landings, the nose wheel has to be checked by the regulatory bodies. These checks are not done. That is why if you check the history of domestic aviation, you will never see a carrier come out and say I have had a clean record breaking and making enough profit.
The third thing is the issue of code sharing. Today, Delta Airlines has nearly swallowed Virgin Atlantic and Richard Branson knows why he did that because he desperately needed the American market. He came to Nigeria because he needed that American market. Running Virgin Nigeria as the carrier at the time would give him the slot, the bi-agreements that Nigeria has would allow him go into the US as well. So passengers fly to the UK or fly directly to the US. With that arrangement with Delta, he has more presence in the America market.”
“ Now, every aircraft/airline owner wants to be Chairman/Managing Director. The only times that domestic travel is viable, there are two routes in this country, Lagos and Abuja. Every other route is just as at when people have a need to move from one place to the other. The times that they are busy are 7 o clock in the morning and the peak hour in the evening 5 -6 pm. The flights in between are 30-40% capacity. Now, airline owners have to agree among themselves to send their passengers to one particular flight. We have financial experts in this county that can reconcile accounts between them every month to ensure that nobody loses out. You are saving yourselves cost as an airline but nobody wants to do that.