Why Nigeria deserves plane maintenance hangar, by domestic airline operators
The economic realities of the time, coupled with high exchange rate of the naira are now making maintenance of aircraft from Nigeria increasingly difficult as the situation is biting hard on airline operators.
The high cost of aircraft maintenance abroad, particularly the mandatory C-check, which is the third category of aircraft maintenance after 18 months timeline, is taking a toll on domestic airlines as they are crying out for help.
This situation is made worse due to lack of a standard Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) hangar in a country that prides itself as a major aviation hub in West Africa.
A hangar in Nigeria would have saved cost of maintenance of aircraft abroad, stop capital flight, save naira the stress of the exchange rate and help to create employment for the nation’s teaming engineers and technicians without meaningful jobs.
Indeed, the absence of a maintenance hangar is a major set back according to stakeholders in the industry, as it impacts negatively on airlines’ operations in terms cost, the effect it has on airline owners and concerns it raises for flight safety.
Some of the airline operators due to the challenging circumstances they have found themselves, are now calling on the regulatory agency, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), to review the mandatory timeline for aircraft maintenance, to remedy the huge financial burden the 18-month exercise makes them to bear against their will.
Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema is one of the operators, who are calling on NCAA to revise the mandatory 18 months timeline given operators to carry out C-check on all aircraft flying in the country. C- check is the major maintenance carried on aircraft every 18 months whether the plane was flown or not.
It is different from line maintenance checks carried out on the aircraft either every months or after some flying hours. Onyema said NCAA should in place of the 18-months maintenance adopt the 4,000 flying hours timeline obtainable in the United States.
He said the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), requires major aircraft to go for C-check after they have flown about 4,000 hours.
Air Peace boss stated that a situation which an aircraft is forced by the NCAA to undergo C-check every 18 months even if the aircraft has not been flying is making both scheduled and charter operators lose over hundreds of millions of dollars . Operators he said spend not less than $500,000 per aircraft anytime the plane is taken overseas for heavy maintenance .
Worried over the huge capital flight, he said it was time government granted approval to some domestic carriers to set up their aircraft maintenance hangar to create jobs and enhance indigenous skills in aeronautical engineering. Such prospective players, he said, should show evidence of partnership with foreign aircraft repair centres.
Government, Onyema said should initiate a deliberate policy to make land available at the airport at an affordable rate for interested domestic carriers that want to set up aircraft maintenance centres.
With an estimated 300 aircraft both chartered and scheduled, operating in Nigeria, the industry will be losing over $150 million every 18 months for C- check at aircraft maintenance centres overseas.
“If an aircraft maintenance centre is set up in Nigeria, such huge funds would be retained to create jobs for teeming aviation professionals,” Onyema stated.
His words: “The NCAA’s regulation makes it mandatory to go for C- check every 18 months. This is only mandatory in Nigeria that an aircraft whether you operate it or not must go for C-check.
No other country in the world is doing this. This regulation is too strict. In America it is four thousand flying hours. “America is the owner of civil aviation and they are utilising the four thousand hours regulation before an aircraft can go for C-check.
But, Nigerian civil aviation rules say 18 months. “While the American model is preferable is because you could attain 4,000 flying hours in about two or three years. “This is is capital drain on the country. Every 18 months you have to fly your aircraft abroad for C-check. It is a huge expenditure on airlines.
In the same vein, the managing director of Dana Air, Jacky Hathiramani has proposed an aviation blueprint for the Muhammadu Buhari administration even as he commended the President for his integrity, passion, resilience and his determination which led to his historic victory at the polls and his eventual inauguration as President and Commander-in- Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He expressed optimism that Buhari’s administration will build on positive achievements of successive governments to deliver well-designed aviation network with potential huge benefits for users, as well as for growth and investment in the wider economy.
Hathiramani emphasized the need for the government to urgently build an aerospace Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility to safeguard capital flight as the absence of a functional MRO facility in Nigeria is depleting the nation’s foreign reserve given that airlines periodically take aircraft in their fleet to far flung countries for heavy maintenance.
In another development, Hathiramani has asked the government to consider aviation fuel hedging for the domestic airlines to help them offset any possible losses in the short term while efforts are on to revamp the refineries.
While also decrying the current taxes paid on tickets, he has suggested for provision of special intervention funds at single digit interest loans for airline operators. The initiative, according to him, will aid availability of working capital for the airlines and improve liquidity.
The MD further charged the administration to review current multi designations approved for foreign carriers as most of them operate without reciprocity to different cities, adding that the government should encourage the international carriers to form alliances with the domestic operators to strengthen the sector.
It will be recalled that the airline recently called on the federal government to create business-friendly aviation industry as high cost of aviation fuel, increasing interest rate, high cost of aircraft lease, high insurance cost and imposition of Value Added Tax (VAT) on air transport, are making the industry less attractive and lucrative.