Aviation: What Nigerians expect in Buhari’s 2nd term

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On Wednesday February 27,2019, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), declared President Muhammadu Buhari, the winner of the February 23  presidential election.

According to the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who is the chief collation officer for the poll,  President Buhari, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), polled a total of  15, 191, 847 to defeat his closest rival, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP) and former Vice President Atiku Abubarkar, who garnered 11,262,978 to place second in the poll.

In Nigeria’s aviation sector, Buhari’s performance or scorecard has been considered low or poor when viewed against that of his immediate predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, and his campaign promises. For instance, the promise to launch a national carrier (even by offloading aircraft in the Presidential fleet) never materialised in his first term.

Similarly, Buhari refusal to invest in infrastructure upgrade in majority of the country’s airport terminals which is a key indices for measuring the growth and development of the sector also attracted low scores from Nigerians. In the same vein, in taking credit for the new  terminals of the Abuja and Port Harcourt Airports which he commissioned, Buhari was reminded that these airport remodelling projects were conceptualised by his predecessor and had reached 80 per cent completion stages in execution before he came on board.

It is the same way the Buhari’s government claim to have managed a  zero-accident record in commercial airline operations recorded in the last four years is being seen as a fallout of the massive investments by the Jonathan administration in growing the infrastructure and manpower, safety and security officials at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and which has nothing to do with the Buhari government.

However spoke to some stakeholders which included Nigerians travelling through  the three terminals of the Murtala Muhammed Airports Lagos (the MMA1, MMA2, and international terminals) on what their expectations from the Buhari second term in government.

National carrier

The take-off of a new national carrier tops the needs of Nigerians from the re-elected Muhammadu Buhari.

“We want to see Air Nigeria up there in the sky in the next one year,” said Aaron Aku, a Turkey based Nigerian who spoke at the Lagos international airport.

“Majority of Nigerian travellers would want to fly in their own national airline; very many of us are just sick of flying in foreign airlines with the insults, abuses and high cost of tickets. You are at home flying with pride your country airline,” Aku added. It was the same point shared by another passenger, Adekunle Pedro, who said “Buhari should fulfil his promise of establishing a national airline to Nigeria.”

“If he couldn’t do this in the first four years, the next four years offers him the chance to present this much-sought-after gift to Nigerians,” Pedro added.

US-based Ekereete Umoh said Nigeria can’t continue to lay claims to being the giant of Africa when South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Morroca, and Ethiopia all have thriving national airlines and Nigeria doesn’t.

“Nigeria cannot be the  giant of Africa without a national or strong flag carrier symbol in the sky. This is one shame that Buhari must take away,” said Umoh.

“I fly in and out of Nigeria with Air France, KLM, or Ethiopian Airlines. No Arik, Aero, Dana Air, Air Peace on the international routes. My sole wish is that by April 2020 when I return for holidays, I should fly back with a national carrier to the US,” he added.

The national air project, Air Nigeria, was suspended last year following the inability to get foreign investors to take up about 95 per cent equity in the proposed airline.

At present the country is losing about N500million annually in capital flights to foreign airlines. Nigerian passengers who spoke to Daily Sun  hold the view that a national carrier will stem this capital flight and also crash airfares on both domestic and international routes. A Country Manager of one of the Middle-East airlines in Nigeria also told Daily Sun that international airlines wholly support the aspirations of Nigerian travellers for Buhari to establish a national airline for the country. According to him, “it is only a national carrier with a government equity that will push the government to make the investments in the right airport infrastructure that will benefit it’s own airline and also every airline operating in Nigeria.”

Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) hanger

The next most important infrastructure that the Buhari government should establish in the country in its next four years is a functional Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) hanger. The need for this facility cannot be overstated given that Nigerian airlines, presidential fleet, Nigerian Air Force and the Nigerian Police spend an estimated $2.5 billion annually in conducting C-check and other levels of aircraft maintenance overseas.

The establishment of an MRO forms part of the Buhari’s government plan for the aviation industry which was launched in 2016. Sadly, this plan like many others was never brought into fruition in his first term.

The absence of an MRO translates into  the high cost of aircraft maintenance on local airlines, a trend that is responsible for the short lifespan of Nigerian carriers, which operate for average of 10 years. The establishment of an MRO therefore comes as the second most important need for the industry that must be addressed by Buhari in his second term.

Fly Nigeria Act

Industry stakeholders also want president Buhari to put more effort into the turning the proposed Fly Nigeria Act into law to boost the patronage of local airlines and the national carrier.  They posit that if President Buhari can sign such an act into law which compels government officials not to fly foreign carriers anywhere a Nigerian airline operates, this would help the country retain some of the monies it expends on foreign airlines in the country. And it would also remain one of the greatest achievements of the Buhari government in aviation sector.

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