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Anxiety heightens as local airlines’ fleet drops to 41 

   …More job losses likely     

By Louis Ibah

The Aviation Round Table (ART), a pressure group comprising mostly Nigeria’s top aviation professionals, yesterday hinted there has been a drastic drop in the combined fleet of local carriers, warning the trend portends grave danger for the nation’s economy.

The ART at its 2017 annual conference held in Lagos on Thursday, put the current fleet figure at 41, representing a 54 per cent drop from an initial 90 aircraft operated some 10 years back.

It however noted that countries all over the world rely on viable airlines to unlock their aviation sector potential and rather expressed concern that the dip in the number of operational aircraft in the country could spell doom  for the government’s target of increasing aviation sector’s contribution to the (GDP) ten per cent over the next few years, alongside other non-oil sectors like agriculture, tourism, and solid minerals.

The body also warned that aside the job losses arising from with the cut back in airline fleet, even ongoing moves to concession the nation’s airports to reputable private firms could also suffer some setbacks. ART submitted that prospective investors always look at the viability of an airports from the prism of vibrant local airlines to utilise the airports. The ART described the 54 per cent drop in the number of local operators fleet as a worrisome development given ongoing efforts to reciprocate existing Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) with about 82 countries, grow incomes and create additional jobs from the aviation industry.

Former Director General/CEO of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, who spoke on the topic, “Nigeria Aviation Infrastructure Development and Challenges”, described aviation as a major catalyst for the economic development of any country, pointing out that without viable airlines, investments in airport infrastructure as is currently being witnessed in Nigeria could end in futility.

“The growth of any airport anywhere in the world is dependent on airlines,” said Demuren. “The airline provides jobs for the airports, pilots, hostesses, engineers, caterers, cleaners, regulators, ticketing officers, travel agents, among others. So without vibrant airlines, we can never prosper with the airports or any aspect of the industry,” he added.

Meanwhile, President of ART, Mr. Gabriel Olowo, who spoke for the group said it was high time the NCAA amended the existing regulations governing the number of aircraft local investors should own in Nigeria. At present, the Nigerian Civil Aviation law demands a minimum of three aircraft but the ART wants the figure increased to 50.

“It’s so sad that at present all our airlines can only boast of 41 aircraft, which is not up to the combined fleet of Ethiopian Airlines,” said Olowo.

“Since there is no legislation in Nigeria, which allows forceful mergers, if a regulation can move the number of airlines that an operator can own from one to two and to three, then with the existing 40 aircraft, there should be a regulation that further moves the figure to 50.

But it should be the Federal Government that should midwife that sort of merger. If Nigeria’s existing 40 aircraft are pooled into one airline, then we already have what it takes to float a very big and vibrant local airline in Nigeria,” Olowo added.

At present, the remaining 41 aircraft in Nigeria are owned by nine local airlines from a 2012 figure of about 90. Aside airlines like Chanchangi, ADC, EAS and Air Nigeria that suspended their operations and in the process ‘lost’ their aircraft, Arik Air, Aero Contractors, and Dana Air are among airlines that suffer fleet depletion in recent time.

In his contribution, Managing Director of the  Nigerian Airspace Manegement Agency (NAMA), Mr. Fola Akinkuotu, said a national airline remains the best option to resolve the dearth of functional aircraft in Nigeria. “A national airline where government has an equity with local partners remains the best option for Nigeria,” said Akinkotu.

He said Nigeria is a unique country that needs unique resolutions to its problems and that the myriad of challenges plaguing existing airlines would be addressed faster if the country had an airline in which the government also had shares.

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