13th July, 2011
The newly appointed minister of aviation, Princess Stella Ada Oduah, has been talking tough. Her actions, rather than words, will determine her legacy.
On Monday, in her maiden meeting with the management of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, and a visit to some facilities at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos on Tuesday, the minister warned that stakeholders who do not sit up will be disciplined.
To the airlines, the minister ordered them to pay off their enormous debts within days or be grounded. To FAAN workers, she said that their lazy attitude to work will no longer be tolerated.
She ordered the National Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, to implement a single Total Radar Coverage for Nigeria rather than deceiving Nigerians with a split of small radars that do not cover the entire country.
The minister, with frankness and boldness rarely seen in Nigerian public office holders, also directed that the basement at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, shut for many years and used as a dumping ground, must receive a facelift and be immediately reopened.
The minister also set up a committee and saddled it with the responsibility to bring down the soaring price of Jet A1, as aviation fuel used in most countries is known. She said the price of Jet A1 must come down or the distressed industry will not survive.
Ada Oduah also pledged that airports that are not properly fenced will be given immediate attention. She said that metal detectors will be installed in all the airports to stop terrorists from striking inside terminal buildings.
She also said that runways, airfield lightings and other needed infrastructure will be attended to. Ministers before her had spoken tough as well only to leave office with little to show for their tough talk.
The new minister will now need to match her lofty goals with concrete steps to save the dying industry.
As at now, Jet A1 gulps about 40 percent of operational costs of most surviving airlines. The multiple taxes the operators pay to remain in business or import aircraft spare parts are crippling the industry. The price of fuel must come down as soon as possible to save the industry from collapse.
The lack of a national hangar in Nigeria makes it impossible to carry out even basic maintenance of our aircraft locally. As a result, airlines waste millions of dollars to maintain their aircraft in foreign countries.
The ill-treatment of Nigerian passengers when flights are delayed or cancelled due to operational inefficiency by the airlines must stop.
The Consumer Protection Directorate must be empowered by law and airlines compelled to compensate passengers when they lose their luggage or when they are delayed unnecessarily.
Airline staff such as pilots, cabin crews and others must be paid their salaries on time. Most of them are being owed several months salaries by their employers. This is dangerous.
Some agencies such as the Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB, must be strengthened and expanded with offices nationwide. The National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, must be given many aircraft because many people who could have been saved after air disasters die because NEMA did not reach the scene of the accident on time.
Various agreements in the sector must be respected so that the concessionaires who have invested billions of naira to bring high-tech infrastructure recoup their investment. For instance, the lingering face-off between FAAN and its revenue generating concessionaire, Maevis Nigeria Limited in Abuja and Lagos airports, must be resolved urgently.
Arik Air must be compelled to relocate to the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2 in accordance with an agreement FAAN and Bi-Courtney Aviation Limited signed. The issue of ageing workforce in various agencies in the aviation sector must be addressed by training more pilots, accident investigators, firefighters, meteorological staff and others.
Our airports must be given a facelift nationwide and managers in the industry who are not efficient and have not added any value to the sector but have been milking the industry dry should be asked to go now.