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Aviation In 2015: Through The Haze To Fresh Policy Promises

Nigerian Minister of Transport

By Samson Echenim — Jan 26, 2016................ The aviation industry was heralded with the harmattan haze coming in from December, the year before and seeing airlines cancelling hundreds of scheduled flights and leaving thousands of air travellers stranded at the airport. Not less than 200 scheduled flights were cancelled by a number of airlines in January 2015, with the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) receiving and resolving over 1,000 complaints.

The dusty haze caused by harmattan claimed its first airline victim on January 8, 2015, when the NCAA suspended the Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) of Discovery Airways Limited over issues of passenger safety at the wake of the current bad weather and the airline’s inability to resolve issues with passengers arising from flight cancellations. The grounding of Discovery Airline came in a statement by the NCAA on January 13, but took effect from January 8, 2015. The NCAA had said that due to the weather condition, which was affecting aircraft visibility and leading to many flight cancellations, it had embarked on an audit of the airlines and found Discovery Airline defaulting.

Later in the years, the NCAA grounded two foreign registered aircraft over their involvement in illegal domestic flights. The aircraft were Bombardier 700-100 with registration marks G-RBEN Global express S/N 9083 operated by Gama Aviation, United (UK) Limited and Embraer 135 J with registration marks XA-MHA. The operator of G-RBEN aircraft were found operating in Nigeria’s airspace with falsified flight clearance information and conducting illegal domestic flight operations in Nigeria. Other infractions included conducting illegal commercial revenue flight operations contrary to conditions contained in Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (NCARs) Also early in 2015, there was the issue of congestion at the international wing (cargo) of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, after the Nigerian Customs Service closed down the warehouses following a fracas between some Customs officers and some clearing agents at the airport. The aviation’s poor take off in the year notwithstanding, the sector witness fair patronage.

By the end of the first half of 2015, the monetary value of all air tickets sold by both domestic and foreign airlines operating in Nigeria totalled over N10 billion. The the director-general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Muhtar Usman disclosed that international ticket sales were worth about N8.2 billion, while domestic airlines managed to grab only about N2.4 billion. The sales figure indicate a whopping 75 per cent gap between leading foreign airlines and Nigeria’s dwindling domestic airlines, with only Arik Air as the indigenous airline on foreign operations. In 2015, several local airlines were able to broaden up their routes to include international routes and several Nigerian routes. Dana Air began flights to the Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri, making its maiden flight from the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos to Owerri Airport on March 17, 2015.

The commencement of flights to Owerri was part of the airline’s domestic route network expansion plans for the year. The addition of Owerri brought the current route network coverage of the airline to five destinations – Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Uyo and Owerri. In 2015, Dana Air also become the 4th Nigerian airline to be doing scheduled flights to Ghana. The airline had said it would leverage on its low fare, excellent customer care and uncompromising on-time performance to lead the competition that will generate from the Lagos-Accra route. Medview Airline also began its Lagos-Accra flight in 2015, adding Lagos- London and Lagos- Jeddah to its ever growing routes all in 2015. Arik Air also began several West African services from the Lagos airport, as well as revived dormant services on the West African axis. The airline launched an optional ad-on insurance cover scheme for its guests to make up for delays of over eight hours and lost baggages.

The year was not with sad news for commercial aviation as Bristow helicopter carrying 12 oil workers delved into the Lagos lagoon near Oworoshoki on August 12, 2015 killing six occupants including the pilot and his 26-year old co-pilot, as well as leaving two handicapped. The accident involved a Sikorsky S-76C+ helicopter, owned by Bristow which was returning from a drilling rig offshore. Fortunately, four of the passengers came out fine with only minor injuries. Also two crash incidents were recorded in military aviation. The first involving a Dornier-228 aircraft, with registration NAF030 happened in Kaduna less than three weeks after the Bristow crash, killing all seven air force officers, including the pilot and his co-pilot. The plane, which took off from Dana Airport, operated by the Nigeria Air Force (NAF) in Kaduna was on its way to Abuja when it came down some minutes after at the Kantoma Army Barracks, otherwise known as the NDA Barracks, around 6.45am. The second military aviation incident had four officers of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) cheating death after a training helicopter belonging to the Force crashed shortly after take off at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.

A military statement issued after the crash which happened at about 10am indicated that the crash of the Super Puma, carrying two pilots and two passengers was caused by hydraulic failure. The aviation agencies continued in the year to pursue payment of debts owed them by operating airlines. Airlines are reported to be owing the agencies to the tune of N100 billion being un-remitted ticket sales charge, parking charge and other charges. The airlines also had several operational complaints including the traditional multi-facet charges by agencies, non-availability of loans and the falling naira value against the dollar. However, as the year closes up, the new minister of transport, Mr Rotimi Amaechi came with hope in form a promise of formulation of the right policies to grow the aviation sector. Amaechi said, “As a first step, the government will pursue the enactment of legislation that will open up the sector to new investments that will lead to economic prosperity.” The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), also identified funding and coordination regarding technical, managerial and financial resources required to ensure effective implementation of standards and policies as the bane of growth of African aviation.

At the just concluded 25th triennial Plenary Session of the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) held in Cairo, Egypt, the ICAO President, Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, said the organisation has resolved to help African countries surpass their challenges and enable them to effectively initiate standards and policies that would aid the growth and development of their aviation sectors. “Many of the challenges Africa faces today are tied to shortfalls in funding and coordination, especially regarding the technical, managerial and financial resources required to ensure effective implementation of ICAO Standards and policies by African States,” he noted.

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