Chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria ( AON), Captain Nogie Meggison has cautioned that until Nigeria establishes an aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul ( MRO) facility in the country, the aviation sector will not optimize the inherent potentials and benefits.
Meggison said merely setting up a national carrier will not alone step up the development of the sector, as aircraft MROs have the capacity to create thousands of jobs and retain huge sums of money in the country that indigenous carriers spend on the repairs of their aircraft oversees.
Speaking in an interview in Lagos recently, Capt Meggisson, who is also the President of JedAir, said setting up aircraft maintenance facility in the country will assist to train the horde of aviation professionals in the country including aircraft engineers. He said the unfavourable government policy of granting multiple entry points to foreign carriers into Nigeria has contributed to the stunted growth of indigenous airlines.
Meggison noted that the unfriendly business environment where operators grapple with multiple charges has not accelerated the process that would lead to private sector players showing interest in setting up aircraft repair centres. He said if some of the intervention funds given by government were channeled into the establishment of aircraft repairs facility, the industry would have made some progress. “I don’t think the national carrier is the issue. Our policies are the issue. We had a national carrier in the defunct Nigeria Airways. One of the main issues was not being able to pay for its maintenance bills of airplanes scattered all over the world including Brazil, Ireland, Germany, France, USA, and Israel,” he added.
If you have a national carrier and you don’t exercise the cabotage law or the Fifth Freedom Right of the Chicago Convention of 1945, we are putting water down the drain. If you have a national carrier and you don’t have MRO, you are putting water down the drain.
Those intervention funds did not filter down to the aviation sector. The last one of N350 billion to the aviation and power sectors; the one for aviation actually went to the banks. It did not come to aviation, and as far as the President is concerned, he would be thinking that it came to aviation because they called it aviation intervention fund. The money can be utilized properly. It is clear that for you to grow more than five airplanes you need to establish an MRO. If some of those intervention funds were used to build a national hangar, today at least on the maintenance side, we would have known where we are.
Furthermore, if some of those intervention funds were even given to the Warri Refinery to crack kerosene and take it one step higher to aviation fuel to draw down the cost of aviation fuel, today we would have a drastic reduction in the operation cost of aviation in Nigeria .
Today if you go to Libya or some African countries that produce kerosene aviation fuel, they charge low rates which are far lower than the international rates. Our fuel is expensive because we are importing kerosene from Dubai, North Africa and from Europe.
Those intervention funds should have been used to develop the section of the Warri Refinery that produces Jet A1 like we were producing in the eighties and make it work and the product should be sold back to us at N120 per litre and you will see that all airlines operating in and out of Africa will be transiting to buy aviation fuel from Nigeria.” He further said: “Today for you to get land and build a hangar it is very difficult. The rates on the land are so high that it is impossible to get back your money on investment. It is like borrowing funds to somebody to do business at 70 per cent interest rate. The person is not going to pay back. But if you give a loan for eight, two, or three per cent as per international interest rate, you are sure he will get back the money and give it to you.
The airlines are supposed to be laying the golden eggs, but the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) are seeing it that they are not only to lay the golden eggs but see it as an avenue for them to generate their own income and carry out their projects. ”
He said until government puts in place policies that would protect indigenous airlines the sector’s potentials for growth would be stunted. Meggison observed: “We have allowed the foreigners to take the jobs of our Pilots and Engineers. We have allowed the foreigners to do multiple entries into our airports because our policies are so loose and we allow them to take all the passengers to the detriment of the Nigerian carriers. It is either we start to eat, or we will be eaten. It is an embarrassment to know how backward we have fallen. I was shocked to know how we have been ripped off by foreign airlines at a conference in Johannesburg recently.
It goes back to government policies which have failed to protect the Nigerian market and labour force. I am the Grand Patron for unemployed pilots. We have about 180 unemployed pilots and 350 to graduate by December. A manufacturer, Bombardier, placed 47 airplanes in Nigeria and we have a close to 100 private jets being placed in Nigeria in the past three years and yet we still have unemployed pilots and no MRO. “He said about the sector that: “Nigeria has slept; it has opened its doors out of being docile. Other airlines are using Nigeria’s income to develop their countries. If Nigeria should wake up and develop and protect her market some of the foreign carriers will go out of business in months like a light switch. We need to start to restrict the way people come into aviation and dive into our market and walk away with cash.
We have the potential to become number one in Africa; not just the gateway but the pivot for African aviation.”
He stressed that: “We should encourage all of them to choose one gateway into Nigeria; Lagos or Abuja. You choose one and then work and should be made to interline with a local carrier and we will develop our local carriers by that. You don’t come and struggle with the local carriers and kill the local carriers. At the rate Nigeria is going if we continue to open our doors for foreign airlines to have multiple stops in five years, quote me; we shall have no local carrier in Nigeria again. This is because you have opened your borders to airlines with financial might and strength to come in there and take away your passengers. Their financials and interest rate are much better than ours, we need to close our borders and develop our market. The world realized this way back as per 1944 Chicago Convention on the cabotage or Fifth Freedom Right that is still enforced worldwide.
So why is Nigeria sleeping? It’s like working in Europe without a work permit, or can they be so nice to let Nigerians work and repatriate funds without a permit in their country? And if you close your borders and ask them to interline with First Nation, Arik Air, Aero and others, the local airlines will start to pick up skills working with reservation systems and maintenance programs.”