With new carriers altering the stakes in the second half of the year, the industry is expected to bubble with a flurry of activities as operators, aviation agencies and other players scale up plans for industry’s rebound, writes KELVIN OSA-OKUNBOR
The global air transport sector is yet to fully recover from travel bans, restrictions and other measures put in place by some countries to escape the ravaging effects of the third wave of COVID-19 and the emergence of new variants of the deadly disease.
In Nigeria, the next six months will trigger another round of optimism for airlines, ground handling firms, aeronautical agencies and aircraft manufacturers as well as aircraft maintenance repairs and overhaul centres as they scale up efforts to make good their lofty plans and projects for the remaining part of the year.
Significantly, experts have expressed optimism over the health of old and fledging carriers which will continue their delivery streak of relatively new airplanes.
Leading the pack of such carriers is Air Peace, which would have received more than half of the 13 Embraer 195- E2 jets purchased from Brazillian airplane manufacturers.
Besides delivery of newer planes, the carrier in the second half of the year would have consolidated flight operations on some of its either new routes and routes hitherto suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview, Air Peace Chief Operating Officer, Mrs Oluwatoyin Olajide, said the carrier would have brought back many of its airplanes stranded abroad while undergoing major maintenance checks.
Apart from Air Peace, another major operator – Ibom Air – would have consolidated flights with its two Airbus aircraft recently deployed in routes, even as the carrier would have its aircraft flapping its wings on some routes in the West African subregion namely, Equatorial Guinea and Banjul, in the Gambia.
New check-in system for Lagos Airport
In the next six months, the epileptic check-in system at the Lagos International Airport, hitherto handled by SITA, would have switched optimally to another automated arrangement handled by another firm – RESA.
Investigations by The Nation revealed that the new international terminal was constructed with the $500 million loan secured by the Federal Government from the China Import Export Bank and would have been inaugurated and running optimally.
Earlier this year, the Managing Director, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Captain Hamisu Yadudu, said it would host foreign carriers, as the 40-year-old facility undergoes a major facelift.
In the airline sub sector, new carriers, namely – Green Africa Airways, Cally Air, Kanem Air, Cardinal Airlines , Chanchangi Airlines, Northeastern Shuttle Airlines Limited, and Mambila Airlines – would have resumed with their aircraft crisscrossing the skyline.
Chairman, United Nigeria Airlines, Dr Obiora Okonkwo said before the end of the year, the carrier would have expanded its fleet and consolidated efforts on the setting up of an Embraer Aircraft Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Centre at the Enugu Airport.
Anambra to inaugurate cargo airport
Also, the Anambra State Government would have inaugurated and began flights at its Passenge/Cargo Airport in Umueri, a sleepy community about half an hour drive from its capital Awka, teh state capital.
Industry watchers say the second half of the year portends uncertainty for the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) backed carrier – NG Eagle Airlines, which has already acquired some aircraft and has embarked on demonstration flight preparatory for commercial kick off.
But, aviation unions are squaring up to frustrate the emergence of the carrier over unresolved labour issues.
Investigation by The Nation reveals that carriers namely – AeroContractors of Nigeria and Arik Air, which are under receivership by AMCOM – would unfold interesting drama for industry watchers.
While AeroContractors is gradually pulling out of the woods with more aircraft returning to flight operations and consolidation on hitherto dormant routes, the remaining part of the year holds promise for the nation’s oldest carrier as its aircraft maintenance arm is fast expanding with three hangars across the country.
An official of the airline said the Aero’s maintenance facility would consolidate operations as plans were already afoot to secure approval for the expansion of its hangar facility at the domestic wing of the Lagos Airport.
Besides, AeroContractors, another aircraft maintenance organisation – 7Star Global is another outfit to look at as it intends to consolidate its prowess in fixing airplanes in- country thereby saving the country millions of dollars spent by indigenous carriers in repairing their airplanes overseas.
Its Chief Executive Officer, Captain Isaac Balami said besides strides to be achieved by the MRO, the outfit will float a premium shuttle airline that will target niche and high networth passengers on northern and other routes.
The industry is on the verge of witnessing a boom in terms of aircraft maintenance that could save the country and the entire West African subregion over $1 billion yearly in ferrying aircraft offshore for checks.
In the coming months, more aircraft will be fixed in-country.
7Star Global Hangar Limited, an Aircraft Maintenance Organisation (AMO), was granted licence by the NCAA to operate an all-inclusive Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility.
Balami said 7Star will be focusing on aircraft Maintenance Repair and overhaul (MRO), describing it as quite exciting because operations are starting with aircraft that are more often taken overseas for inspection.
Though lauded by industry watchers, the carrier -7Star Global Airlines – is yet to secure the important Air Operators’ Certificate (AOC) from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Organisation (NCAA).
The remaining part of the year, experts say, holds a lot of promise from as the industry policeman intends to ramp up its processes and procedures on oversight over private/business jet operators.
The NCAA’s Director-General, Captain Musa Nuhu, had declared in an interview that the body would roll out a raft of regulations and measures that would streamline the operations of private jets.
Private jet operations had come under the regulatory radar over allegations of non- compliance with the laws prescribed for their operations by the NCAA.
The coming months also portends uncertainty for owners of private jets who do not meet conditions set by the Nigeria Customs Services (NCS) for the importation and relevant clearance required for such equipment.
A pall of uncertainty also hangs over promises to deliver a national carrier, aircraft maintenance centre, aircraft leasing company and an Aeronautical University by the Minister of Aviation, Captain Hadi Sirika, who observers say, has been long in rhetoric and short in action.
Stakeholders look forward to the intervention of the NCAA in resolving agitation to review ground handling charges for indigenous operators.
The anticipated review in the rates for foreign carriers flying in narrow body and wide body aircraft has become imperative because Nigeria offers the lowest ground handling tariff in the sub region.
Wanted: Increased charges
Players in the cargo, ramp passenger and ground handling value chain said unless the charges were raised the industry, safety and security for aircraft handling could experience a dip.
One of the operators said the review in ground handling rates should not only be carried out for fireign carriers, but also for indigenous operators, as the players are hit adversely by the oscillating exchange rate.
An official of the companies which pleaded not be be named, said: “We are proposing that there should be adjustment for domestic ramp handling rates to be at par with the exchange rate which has significantly impacted the cost of our operations.”
Chief Executive Officer, Aglow Aviation Limited, Mr Tayo Ojuri said a study shows that Nigeria offers the lowest ground handling rate in West Africa in comparison to Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal and other Francophone airports.
He said antecedents and ownership played a major role in the pricing structure and handling charges paid by airlines to ground handling companies based on the fact that they evolved as government-owned entities and airline subsidiaries
He said these ground handling companies were quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).
He said to ensure safe, secure and commercial operations, ground handling charges should be competitive and reflect operations costs.
He said there should be appropriate charges for narrow and wide aircraft.
“ICAO Document 9562 highlights key considerations when determining ground handling charges. Ground handling charges shall be market determined through competition to ensure that they reflect the most cost-effective level for the provision of optimal ground handling services. Experience has shown that market-determined ground handling charges through competition provide the best outcome.
“We reckon ample negotiation coupled with meaningful consultations with the airlines based on transparent information is necessary to verify that airlines are subject to cost-related and effective ground handling charges. A suggested middle ground will be to develop minimum handling rates.
“As the regulator, NCAA can be an independent observer during the negotiation to ensure the airlines and ground handling firms arrive at a mutual fee which will ensure a safe and secured environment which augurs well for the public.’’
The Association of Ground Handling Agents of Nigeria (AGHAN), Chairman, Sam Oluwole said there was the need for the government to address the imbalance in ground handling charges.
He called for regulatory intervention. “What we are trying to set is what we consider as a minimum handling rate, which will be observed by ground handling companies. There should be a uniform rate, which the NCAA is going to supervise. The NCAA should regulate this by ensuring that the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are maintained and there is no undercutting.
“Whatever we are agitating for is not increment per say, but we only want to regularise the rates. Whatever we are charging is lower than what we did in the 1980s and early 1990s. We just want to be at par with other countries. That is where the NCAA will come in; to play their roles as regulators, just as we have in the banking industry where the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) regulates activities in that sector,” he added.