NIGERIAN PILOTS LOST AT SEA
Category : General
NIGERIAN PILOTS LOST AT SEA
By Kelechi Eze & Ofonime Essien
This is a missive to address the issues that have confronted me as an unemployed pilot with no job experience in Nigeria. I will delve into matters only within my scope of experience and reach even though I am no expert in the aviation industry, I can say I am an expert in the field of pilot unemployment.
From where I look, it appears that the Nigerian Aviation Industry is in shambles; While it may periodically receive jolts of life (new airlines and expansion within standing ones) these do little to raise this near-dead goliath. A giant felled from the stone that mismanagement shot. The industry is moribund, with hundreds of unemployed and underemployed pilots, engineers and technicians laying about without hope. In fact, the NCAA once published that they have issued over seven thousand (7000) licenses but only about two thousand and five hundred (2500) of those are current, meaning these are the only ones currently in use for employment purposes. This points to the possibility of an even higher number of unemployed pilots than previously thought.
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The truth is that there is much that is wrong in the industry because many businesses are struggling to stay ahead of mounting loans from ever sceptical banks and stringent regulations which do as much harm as good to the industry. Therefore, pressing measures should be undertaken to resuscitate the industry.
THE PROBLEMS AFFLICTING THE INDUSTRY (FROM MY PERSPECTIVE)
The universally accepted measure of experience in the global aviation industry is practice hours (flying hours) and that yardstick is the same for us here is Nigeria too. The higher the hours of practice for pilots and engineers, the better regarded and more trusted they are. It is for this reason that insurance companies make benchmarks for pilots and co-pilots to adhere to in order for them to better safeguard their investments and ensure a higher standard of operation. An unwritten agreement for a minimum of 1500 hours and 500 hours are required for captains and co-pilots respectively, in many countries all over the world.
However, fresh graduates from aviation schools (I speak for pilots solely in this instance) receive somewhere between 200-300 hours of total training hours for airplane pilots and between 150-200 hours of total training hours for helicopter pilots throughout their tutelage, therefore, a deficit in practice hours exists for these new graduates making them less than ideal for employment. Technically, they are still employable but as I earlier mentioned employers are more comfortable taking on more experienced pilots. This situation presents a serious quagmire for fresh pilots leading those fresh graduates with means to “buy” hours by paying for them or utilize their connections to gain employment with their meagre qualifications.
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So the options available to new pilots remain to either spend more money to increase their flying hours by hiring a plane or helicopter and paying per hour, use the ever present “connection” or test the waters with their sparse CVs. Coupled with the steady stream of foreign and more experienced pilots who troop into the country to compete for jobs that the locals cannot qualify for, the competition is currently slaughtering Nigerians.
WHAT IS BEING DONE?
The order of the day is a call for the reestablishment of the national carrier airline as an antidote to our presently ailing industry. Whilst I am excited for this news, I cannot help but to objectively assess our situation as to be beyond the cure of one single airline. Even the most optimistic observer cannot deny the astronomical costs this airline will gulp, not to mention the equally mammoth sums that will be required to launch and maintain such till it breaks even financially. With industries in Nigeria witnessing a crunch in one form or the other owing to the monumental dip in oil prices as well as the political realignment of the government, every penny that can be saved should be. The order of the day will be “effective” as opposed to “massive” spending.
This is why I am wholly convinced that a national carrier as well other large scale investments MIGHT not be the best way to go, and they will produce more of the same results for many local pilots. It MIGHT turn out to be a typical case of treating the symptom as opposed to the disease itself. These ‘low-hour’ pilots will remain unemployable unless the airline is willing to invest even more time and money in these low-timers.
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That said, it would be a major boost to Nigeria’s profile for her to maintain a national carrier, which I am certain will increase traffic for, at least, tourism and international business collaborations.
WHAT SOLUTION WOULD I RECOMMEND?
I would recommend that General Aviation (GA) be bolstered up. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) defines GA as “an aircraft operation of a civil aircraft other than a commercial air transport operation or aerial work operation.” This simply means any aviation dealing asides airliners, corporate and luxury business jets charters and the likes, is general aviation. This means that General aviation is ANY airplane business that in NOT an airline. So examples of GA would be tour flights, training, aerial photography, pipeline inspection, banner towing, crop dusting and skydiving etc. GA has a very notable hallmark which is its use of small short-range airplanes for small scale businesses, making it more affordable compared to the high cost of the regular airlines.
BENEFITS OF GENERAL AVIATION
The most pronounced characteristic of General Aviation (GA) is its cheapness as against other aviation businesses. It costs a fraction of what it takes to buy one airline aircraft to set up normal GA operation. Small planes which have long lifespans and little maintenance overhead have prices comparable to cars. They are the key drivers of such businesses so these businesses can afford to hire pilots with low hours. In fact that is mostly what they can afford, considering their small size and profits.
Ideally, pilots and engineers can begin working in these small companies and then accumulate more hours and experience which makes them more suitable for bigger businesses and operations. In doing so, Nigeria can be assured of a steady stream of better experienced pilots who have cut their teeth in actual labour and have confidence in their skills. It will also help Nigerian aviators get employment and experience in other countries, which can help us expand our knowledge base as well as strengthen cultural ties with other nations.
The potentials for GA to improve the economy are too numerous and far reaching, as shown in the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) issued report for 2014 and 2015 forecast, GA is currently a $219 billion industry in the United States alone and supports 1.1 million jobs in the same country. Manufacturing plays a massive role in this colossal market, and Africa is still virgin territory. With the right input, the entire sub-Saharan general aviation market would have to stem from here in Nigeria. In truth, only South Africa uses general aviation to any degree of importance in Africa, and it provides for 2.1% of their GDP.
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Other than financial, the addition to local content would be enormous. GA can resuscitate Nigeria’s pride, the Air Beetle, an airplane which was manufactured and fabricated locally till it could no longer operate. Also schools for aviation technology would not be far to imagine seeing as they come hand in hand with a functional and boisterous GA.
ACTUAL RECOMMENDATIONS I WILL MAKE
1. Review the landing and take-off costs for airplanes under 12,600 lbs, or the NCAA may provide a list of preferred aircrafts for GA use which the NCAA will reduce airport fees for, as long as they are registered in Nigeria.
2. The Federal Government, or even states, can make allocations for short strips for runways, whether controlled or uncontrolled. A minimum of three of such airfields should be located in each state. A public/private partnership will be best in our clime to ensure that maintenance is not overlooked either.
3. Relax the requirements for aviation business registration for small-scale businesses, or create an avenue for GA businesses to start and progress without needing to acquire the top heavy structures of actual airlines, also a review of the policy guiding the private ownership of aircrafts for non-commercial purposes.
4. Require the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the National Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to maintain a fleet of small inexpensive planes with which they can monitor pipelines as well as rapidly respond to emergencies where they may arise.
5. Demand the NCAA to live up to its responsibilities of providing regulatory oversight on aviation operations and make these regulations public on a functional website. Information such as area charts and airport information MUST be made available and aslo well updated.
6. Make concessions such as tax exemptions to particular businesses within the GA scope such as schools, which can stem the tide of fleeing Forex which is caused by monies leaving Nigeria to pay for fees in foreign countries.
7. Border patrolling for and with the Nigerian Custom Service as well as the Nigerian Army is also a possibility. Keep in mind these small and nimble planes can serve in multiple ways; deliver payloads and packages to destinations where bigger planes cannot, survey areas and assess situations, and they cost a fraction of the drones that can deliver those functions.
8. Finally, support the push to introduce a regulation that requires a Nigerian member of crew for ANY aircraft operating within Nigeria, whether it be registered or not.