By Wole Oyebade
Airline operators have kicked over the proposal to benchmark the minimum planes a local airline should have in its fleet to 20. The operators, apparently miffed by the call made by Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), described it as “mere talks” that does not correspond to the economies of the aviation industry.
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The ASRTI, a think-tank group of the aviation sector, recently argued that contrary to the current minimum of two-aircraft requirement for Air Operating Certificate (AOC), the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should consider an upward review to force merger of the struggling airlines to emerge stronger for competition on the regional and international fronts.
Chairman of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggison, on the sidelines of the World Aviation Forum in Abuja, said the ASRTI’s argument runs contrary to logic and could only have come from those that have no stake in the airlines’ operations.
Meggison said given the cost of an aircraft and the rather difficult operating environment in the country, it would be unfair and wrong to compare local airlines with the likes of Ethiopian Airlines that have over 100 airplanes in its fleet.
He challenged members of the ASRTI to invest in at least one aircraft to put their money where their mouth is. “It is easy to talk on the side; let them come to the field. People that are in the field should be given the credit and honour, especially at this time of economic hardship with interest rate at 26 per cent. Anyone that is in aviation field should be given the credit not side distractions,” he said.
The chairman added that Ethiopian Airlines, which is often cited as standard for Nigerian airlines, is one of the main beneficiaries of Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) and open sky policy; coming into five points (airports) in Nigeria without Nigeria reciprocating any.
Meggison queried: “What is your exchange and mutual benefit with Ethiopia? Back in the days, our forefathers did trade by barter. What economic benefit is Ethiopia putting on the table as human capital, skilled labour, training our youth and economic contribution? Under Ethiopian Airlines have you seen any engineer, mechanic, cabin crew and pilots employed? Yes, they can fly 200 planes because your own policy is not right and you open your backyard to them. Until you recognize and pick your own up, then you have nothing.
“Ethiopia today have $30 billion invested in the airline. What is Nigerian investment in our airlines? Today, we have 400 pilots unemployed. Are we creating jobs for them? The onus is Nigerians to put Nigeria first for us all to benefit.”
Meggison also ruled out the call for airlines’ merger, saying they are all independent organisations with different business plans. He said while such merger might have been successful in the banking sector, airlines’ case is different as it is all about the investors’ fund capped by conditions.
Managing Director of Med-view Airlines, Muneer Bankole, also said that the number of aircraft to be operated was an issue of regulation and not something that should be bandied around to frustrate the airlines who were already gasping for breathe under stringent operational conditions.
According to Bankole, “ASRTI cannot talk about AOC or aircraft acquisition, and with due respect to my fathers and brothers at the ARTI, the idea for the regulator to increase stake on the minimum number of aircraft for operation doesn’t follow.
“What should matter is how you use what you have to build capacity and entrench the safety needs. Aviation is not a child’s play and we have to contend with a lot of challenges from training of staff to maintenance, which last year we did, and this is the reality of the cost intensive nature of the business,” he said.