Contributed by Capt. Dung Pam, president, Nigerian Aviation Safety Initiative (NASI)
An active and sustainable local aviation industry has strategic importance that go beyond mere commercial and business objectives. It is a matter of national interest and security. So far, the administering of Nigeria’s Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) has been a matter of serious concern considering it is supposedly based on the principle of “reciprocity”; fair exchange for mutual benefit. It has neither been fair, nor particularly beneficial to the generality of Nigerians. The Federal Ministry of Aviation (FMA) has consistently failed to understand the wider implication of this myopia. If they are bereft of the requisite information, wider stakeholder engagement and consultation will have revealed deeper reasoning.
Therefore, it is irresponsible and dereliction duty for the Federal Ministry of aviation to offer multiple designations and entry points to foreign international carriers without seriously considering the medium and long term economic and security implications. The process is devoid of transparency and reeks of high-handed personal interest as opposed to national interest. It virtually outsources the operation our aviation industry to foreign entities while relegating Nigerian carriers to the position of pawns in this internal chess game. We are the “mark” and the “market” in this intriguing game of monopoly.
The reason why Nigerian airlines are unable to commensurately reciprocate our bilateral air service agreement (BASA) is because they are weak, disorganised and fragmented. The duty and the challenge for the Federal Ministry of Aviation (FMA) is to reverse the current situation by creating policies and implementing strategies that will facilitate the emergence of strong, organised and viable local airlines. For close to a decade NASI and other proactive organisations/individuals have advocated for strategic partnerships such as interlining, code-shares, commercial agreements, mergers and acquisitions in the industry as a panacea for the current mediocrity and declining fortunes.
Mega-carriers in Europe and America are merging to further extract cost synergies and take advantage of economies of scale. Yet, the FMA is superintending over the collapse of its aviation sector. Our two major commercial scheduled operators; Arik and Aero are facing possible insolvency despite multiple government monetary interventions. The ministry and the regulator should wake up to their responsibilities and facilitate the evolution of our 17 under performing airlines into 5 viable and profitable airlines capable of providing the world class service Nigerians deserve. These 5 restructured airlines should then be engaged in a transparent process of bidding for the “two positions” of being Nigeria’s flag carriers.
The security implications of a badly run aviation industry is also underscored by the recent history of widespread money laundering and illegal importation of arms suspected to be taking place using aircraft and airports. Thus, exacerbating the lingering security situation in the country. 11 years after Mallam Isa Yuguda and his “high powered Ministerial committee” discovered over 70 illegal airports/heliports we’re still grappling with stowaways and airport perimetre/air-side security breaches. Not a single airport in Nigeria has met all the safety and operational requirements to be fully certified. 15 years after signing a provisional open skies agreement with the USA we are still unable to take full advantage of it.
Enough of playing politics with the future of 170 million people! It is time to see some concrete proactive solutions to the problems bedevilling the Nigeria’s aviation sector.