30 aircraft saga: What manner of bail out?

ONE issue that has dominated discourse in the past one week is the new intervention or bail out for Nigerian airlines.

Nigerian airlines are in serious dire straits but the way and manner of rescuing them has pitched friends against friends, just as it has deepened the seeming misunderstanding between the Ministry and respected aviation experts over alleged lack of feasibility study before coming with pronouncement of acquiring 30 aircraft for Nigerian airlines.

How did the Minister arrive at the number of airplanes that would be required by the carriers? Did the Ministry and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) consult the airlines to know their pressing needs? How are we sure this fresh intervention for airlines won’t go the way of previous ones that were not judiciously applied? What about repayment plans and on what condition would the aircraft be shared among the operators? Has the Ministry sat down to know what type of aircraft Airline B need to boost its operations?

These are some of the issues that were not tackled before allowing FAAN to go to the public to make policy statement on how to ‘dash’ airlines aircraft.

Such pronouncement on the acquisition of 30 airplanes according to experts should not reside with FAAN. No wonder some airline owners expressed shock over the development, maintaining that they were not carried along. The operators who spoke under strict condition of anonymity because they do not want to appear as embarrassing Stella Oduah-Ogiewonyi, said they heard of the plan in the media, asking, ‘’Na so dem dey do am’’. You can’t shave peoples head in their absence.

Most of the minister’s policies had come under scathing criticisms because of her knack to shroud every good intention as top secret and for engaging bad people as advisers for most of the things she engages in.

Not a few are of the view that the fresh intervention would help go the way of others. The N300 billion funds given two years ago were wrongly applied because there was no need to give individuals or companies public funds. Predictably, this fund ended up in the coffers of some people. How are we sure that this fresh scheme would not end up the same way?

The airlines never used the money to develop their operations; they were accused of using it to live large and their airline collapsed before their very eyes while some of the big ones are wobbling.

In summary, the intervention procedure of buying aircraft for domestic airlines is not clear. Aircraft acquisition is a product of fleet expansion, upgrade, or additions based on specific airlines need.

Again, the operational module has not been identified; research, of availability of passengers and cargo identified.

The Managing Director of Capital Airlines, Amos Akpan captured it very, well noting, ‘’the frequency and capacity required must be determined. This then determines the size and type of aircraft. The safety envelope of categories of airports and the facilities they offer must be critical inputs too. We should not jump into lopsided amelioration again’’.

He advised that no person or institution should be given money to buy aircraft, adding that when the operator identifies the aircraft that suites its operation, the operator should get the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to inspect and approve.

‘’The government should pay through its bank and retain the title of ownership while the airline is only the operator’’. In my opinion; in the history of Nigerian aviation, the current NCAA management has handled safety oversight in the best professional method so far’’.

Record shows that lack of proper planning has made airline business not to be profitable in Nigeria. If you are not profitable with a small fleet, there is no way you will be profitable when the sector is over flooded with aircraft without corresponding increase in passenger traffic.

The implication of influx of aircraft is that the airlines will provide excess capacity on most of the routes in specific times; the more reason most of the carriers are not taking the Minister and FAAN seriously with this curious bail out.

For instance, if six airlines provide 750 seats on the Abuja-Lagos route between 6.30am and 10am to carry 400 passengers amongst themselves, the tendency is for the airlines to go empty afterwards; a situation that makes them unprofitable.

Will the airlines merge or interline? The chance is very narrow as ego, rather than economic reason will perpetually leave them where they belong.

Again, the Minister and not FAAN should come up with a clear cut policy of helping the airlines and not what they presently plans that may end up like the previous one.