By Sampson Ikemitang
Six years into the second term of Eight-year-tenure of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the aviation sector has continued to witness phenomenal and unprecedented transformation. This transformational effort of Mr. President can be seen in the conscious and deliberate policy decisions undertaken in the recent years which have aptly revolutionised the hitherto, ailing sector. Indeed, this effort has not only made air transportation in the country a preferred choice for air travellers but also put the nation’s air transport on the map of countries with the safest airspace.
It will be recalled that the Business Day Newspaper of January 6, 2014, had pithily reported that Nigeria’s aviation sector was sliding steadily into lean and difficult times and may indeed grind to a halt if nothing strategic and definitive was done to save the situation. It further averred that the problems confronting the industry were myriad. Among the identified bottlenecks were: lack of operational funds, unavailability of major maintenance facilities, high cost of aviation fuel, as well as comparatively heavy taxation by the country’s aviation agencies. In like manner, experts were of the view that the local operators had difficulties raising funds owing to low investor confidencearising from poor safety records, amongst others. This, to say the least, was the true state of affairs in the aviation sector at the time.
It is worthy of note that the Federal Ministry of Aviation through the Nigerian Civil Aviation ACT of 2006 is saddled with the overall responsibility for the formulation and management of aviation policies in Nigeria. Also, it is within the Ministry’s purview to oversee air transportation, airports development and maintenance, provision of aviation infrastructural services and other needs of the aviation industry in line with International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO.
To this end, soon after President Buhari took over the reins of power in 2015, he immediately introduced some innovative, turn around policies which reversed this ugly trend and placed the sector on the path of recovery, thus leading to sustainable economic growth and development. This has not been gainsaid by all and sundry.
“This government right from inception in 2015, has been planning and strategizing on how to resuscitate a National Carrier as far as global air transportation is concerned. Going by what is on ground, the plan will be actualised in 2021 through Public Private Partnership, PPP, arrangements”.
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika made the above disclosure while unveiling the Aviation roadmap to the Senate Committee on Aviation recently during the 2021 budget defence session at the National Assembly. He stated that projects to be executed as captured in the aviation roadmap include: establishment of Maintenance, Repairs and Overhaul (MRO) Centre, development of Agro-Allied/Cargo Terminals, establishment of an Aviation Leasing Company (ALC) and the establishment of Aerospace University.
Other projects are: upgrade of NCAT into an ICAO Regional Training Centre of Excellence, Designation of four (4) International Airports as Special Economic Zones, Introduction of Policies on Remotely Piloted Aircraft, Adherence to Employment Policies on the Enforcement of Expatriate Quota and upgrade of Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) to a Multi-modal Accident Investigation Agency –National Transportation Accident Investigation Board (NTAIB).
To further demonstrate the undiminished commitment the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has accorded to air transportation, there are indications that 10 more airports are to be established in some States of the federation. These areBenue, Ekiti, Nasarawa, Yobe and Gombe. Others areKebbi, Dutse and Zuru airports.
The danger inherent in having an industry replete with weak operators and inadequate fleets is the temptation to compromise safety in a bid to cut corners in order to stay afloat. This, to a large extent, has underscored the establishment of a National Carrier.
The benefits of a National Carrier
The benefits to be derived from the establishment of a national carrier are enormous. These are: reduction of capital flight from Nigeria, gains optimal benefit of BASA SAATM, develops an aviation hub, contributes to the growth of the nation’s GDP, boosts hospitality and tourism industry, propels growth and development of the Nigerian Agricultural Sector and above all, creates the much needed jobs around the Agro-Cargo Terminals for the unemployed.
It is worthy of note that the project development phase has been completed with the development of Online Business Case (OBC) and subsequent issuance of compliance certificate by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC). The Ministry is now working towards representing another memo for the approval of the FOBC before the end of this month. Thereafter, place the Request for Qualification (RFQ) in both local and international media. It is heart-warming to say that efforts are in top gear to see operation of local and international flight takes off by 3rd quarter of 2022.
As said earlier, four International Airports i.e Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt have been designated as special economic zones. The benefits to be derived therefrom are huge. This include: creates around these airports a more efficient and business friendly trade environment with less bureaucratic bottle-necks because of the associated fiscal incentives and packages. As a result of this economic zones status, these airports will attract world class Local and International Airlines/Companies into the Nigerian Aviation Industry. Also, this special branding has the propensity to attract investment incentives and this includes: Investment Policies and Protection, General Tax Based Incentives, Sector Specific Incentives, Tariff Based Incentives as well as Export Incentives.
It should further be emphasised that its socio-economic impact on the nation’s economy will be massive, as it will attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), generate employment opportunities and human capital development, thereby stimulating the overall improvement of the Nigerian Aviation industry. Besides, the ease of doing business in Nigeria will be greatly improved, thereby leading to a better ranking with associated business climate. One cannot agree-less with the fact that this vision is in line with the Federal Government’s commitment towards national economic development. Again, the special economic zone status will fast track the upgrade and development of new infrastructure at these airports. Generation of additional non-aeronautical source of revenue to the aviation industry as well as harness the socio-economic benefits derivable from Civil Aviation. It is mind-blowing to say that Mr. President has approved the designation of the four airports as Special Economic Zones since May 17, 2021.
Establishment of an Aviation Leasing Company (ALC)
An Aviation Leasing Company which would be private sector-driven will be established to address the challenges of limited access to capital and high cost of funding. The Aviation Leasing Company will provide leasing opportunities for Nigerian and African airlines who may seek to boost fleet size, alleviate the problem of aircraft leasing and the high insurance premium usually associated with the industry. Note that the project has so far reached advance stage in the procurement phase. A preferred partner has long been selected and negotiations are expected to commence soon. Indeed, commencement of negotiations with the preferred partner and finalisation of Full Business Case (FBC) and the project is expected to commence operation by the 3rd quarter of 2021.