Captain Musa Nuhu is the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). In this interview, he outlined the attraction of the Nigerian Aviation sector to investors, how the sector can tackle forex scarcity and updates on Azman Airline’s operations.
Contrary to what is happening in other climes, more airlines have been flying in Nigeria in the last four months. How would you assess the Aviation sector?
There is a huge market here. The Nigerian market is not mature enough. There is a huge opportunity for the Nigerian market to grow.
That is why you see that many airlines are coming up in the country. We have Green Africa Airways, NG Eagle and so many other airlines coming up. I am sure that Green Africa Airways, NG Eagle are the next to fly. The market is there. It is economics.
Unfortunately, because of the condition of the roads, a lot of people prefer flying by air. So, the demand is growing and that is why you see many airlines growing.
I can tell you that out of the 9 million that are said to be travelling within Nigeria, only probably one million people are flying regularly. So, maybe only one or two million people travel in Nigeria, out of a population of 200 million. It is still a virgin market. If we uphold our policies and strategies, we will make a friendly environment of the industry and it will grow.
What role will MRO play in creating such a friendly environment?
You know airlines go to Europe for maintenance, but when we have MRO, it creates employment. You just roll in your aircraft and do your maintenance in there in Naira.
You don’t have to go to CBN looking for $100,000. It takes you six to seven biddings and your aircraft is on ground for two months while you are waiting for money.
So these are part of the processes and strategies that are being put together to help the industry grow.
What are you doing to develop General Aviation in Nigeria?
Honestly, when you talk about General Aviation, you touched something that is close to my heart. General Aviation is the basics of any successful aviation industry.
A successful aviation industry in any country has good General Aviation. It provides the people with the basics such as experienced pilots. Airlines provide experienced management staff and engineers.
So, when the airlines employ them, it costs them less to train them because they already have some level of experience not direct from flying school.
How are you promoting its policy?
We have the Civil Aviation Act before the National Assembly. Hopefully, it will be passed into law soon.
So, once that is done, and we know what the new NCAA mandate is, we will do a stakeholders meeting for a review of our regulations. I think we need to de-clutter and unbundle our regulations so that the requirements for General Aviation is different from the requirements for the airlines.
They are not the same risk so we need to unbundle those regulations. General Aviation could be Chartered flights, agric spraying, small tourism aircraft, ambulance and others.
There are so many areas of General Aviation, but right now, regulations are bundled. Somebody flying a corporate and small plane carrying 10 people and you are asking for the same requirements from a Boeing 777 going to Dubai? It doesn’t make sense. When we unbundle those regulations, we believe it is going to stimulate the General Aviation part of the industry.
And when that is done, all these excess pilots and the people that don’t have jobs will be absorbed. They will get experienced and move on to the bigger airline industry. General Aviation is very critical.
Can you say Nigerian airlines are benefitting from the Cape Town Convention about a decade later?
Not very well, no. Because we have cases where people go and lease aircraft and bring them into Nigeria. They don’t pay and they don’t want to release the aircraft. So, it creates a bad reputation for the Nigerian market.
That is why I tell you, when you do things, it’s not just one person but the reputation of the entire country that’s at stake. Since I came on board, I have successfully dealt with three cases with Cape Town Convention. There was an airline that took some engines but didn’t want to return them. We fought for it. There was a helicopter that was seized, we fought for it and they released it.
There was an aircraft that we let go of. If we didn’t do that, people would not feel safe allowing their equipment into our country and even when they do, it is at such an exorbitant rate that any profit the operator hoped to gain is wiped off.
Do we have enough safety inspectors to inspect operations?
We certainly do not have enough inspectors. It is an issue that we discussed when we had a meeting with the Ministry.
There are issues with the condition of service especially in the area of remuneration. I cannot unilaterally address that issue. We have documents from the salary and wages commission. We met the Chairman and he confirmed they are working on it. That will resolve the issue in the short term, but I am also looking at longer-term solutions.
What is happening now is not only a Nigerian issue. It is a global issue that affects even Europe and America because the government cannot pay the same rates as the airlines offer.
But, we can put certain conditions in place to make it attractive for people, pre-retirement, who will come here and spend 10 to 15 years of their active career life, rather than attracting only retirees from airlines.
I am not against hiring people who are retired because they have certain experiences that we need. However, there should be a right mix of young people who will grow in the system and spend longer time than people who cannot offer more than five extra years because they had retired from active service. The high turnover rate of older retirees affects the continuity of the system and makes it inefficient because of the resources spent to train them as well.
I will rather have the right combination of the skilled elderly workers and the young upcoming ones and this is something we are already working towards.
Nigerian airlines in the past few months have increased airfares by as much as 100%, many attributing the increase to forest scarcity. What is the NCAA doing about the forex issues?
The Minister has been to the CBN and he is doing what he can, but because of the scarcity of forex, the government has its own policy on prioritisation.
The Minister has been fighting for the airlines but we can help ourselves by supporting the MROs that the government is working towards as it will significantly reduce the amount of forex airlines would need; thus reducing forex outflow and also creating jobs. It would be a double win for the country.
For the fares, it has to do with the economics of demand and supply. Don’t forget because of this forex difficulty, airlines are not operating their fleet at full capacity. If one of the airlines is out of the system, you try to fill that gap. That will put extra demands on the other routes.
Can’t airlines re-strategise by using more cost-effective aircraft for business?
Already, there is a paradigm shift. People are beginning to realise you can’t use Boeing 737 aircraft for short flights. I can see Air Peace has got an E-195, and he plans to replace all the B737 in the long term. United Nigeria is using Embraer 145. Green Africa is using ATR 42, 72.
There is one that has started processing its documents; he wants to use Embraer 145. Chanchangi wants to come back and they want to use ATR. The demand is there. The thinking is changing because this B737 business is not working for us. It is going to take a while but it is a positive change in the industry.
What is the update on the Azman operations?
I must tell you the response we had from Azman has been very encouraging and very positive. Now they understand it is even better for them to improve their business model. I have seen a shift and I can guarantee you that by the time Azman complies with all that we requested, the public will see a different Azman airline.
That is our purpose. We are not here to kill anybody or to ruin any airline, but to guide them to operate safely, efficiently and to provide the necessary services to the travelling public. I just received a very impressive response from them concerning what they have done. We are going to start serious training for their people next week.
Where we find gaps, they have already started employing people and they are really working and cooperating. Honestly, I am very happy and feel very relieved at their response to us.