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FRESH VISTA FOR AVIATION INDUSTRY

By NBF News
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THAT the aviation industry is in dire straits is no longer news. Over the past few years, many domestic airlines have continued to close shop and those still in the business are doing so at a huge cost.

Today; however, Nigeria can only boast of about nine of such airlines. Experts attributed mismanagement and poor business plans to the demise of the once big airlines.

The cost of aviation fuel, biting effects of the global financial meltdown and the instability of the Naira have not helped matters. The banks that hitherto stood as guarantors for the airlines in various aspects of their business have withdrawn such privileges. It is now a cash and carry regime.

All these were the problems facing Nigeria's aviation industry until President Goodluck Jonathan appointed Mrs. Stella Adaeze Oduah as aviation minister in July 2011.

The new minister appears to have hit the ground running, instituting major policy reforms to turn the industry around. She announced that in line with President Jonathan's transformation agenda, a new master plan would be put in place to turn the aviation industry around.

The minister has received suggestions from experts that to survive the difficult economic climate, Nigerian airlines must consider interlining, code sharing and merging, and that mergers if found suitable, should be encouraged as was done in the banking sector. This way, Nigeria may end up with three to four mega airlines with broad based ownership and competitive capacity.

Within four months of her appointment as minister, Oduah has moved to improve service levels in the nation's airports, including terminal renovations and upgrades, and improvement of security in the face of security threats.

To ensure security of lives and property in and around the airports, the installation of explosive detectors at the entrances, gates and car parks will begin. The nation's airports are also to be fitted with fire fighting infrastructure to be deployed when necessary in line with international best practice.

In the area of improving airport safety infrastructure the minister through FAAN has also commenced the refurbishment of fire fighting trucks and other fire equipment in all the nations' airports.

Out-of-service fire trucks littering the airports nationwide are to be returned to their original manufacturers: Kronenburg BV in the Netherlands for comprehensive life renewal and refurbishment. The refurbishment will include replacement of the entire cabin and body, refurbishment of the water and foam tanks and the rebuilding of the engine and transmission to standard, in addition to re-engineering to effect new aerodynamic designs.

The trucks that would be put back in service would be virtually new and it would be seen as a major cost saving measure. The minster has also moved to provide heat proximity clothing for firemen in the nation's airports to redress the situation, which led to the unfortunate loss of the lives of some firemen in the line of duty in Kano last year.

Fire extinguishers and other firefighting equipment are also to undergo complete hydrostatic testing and maintenance in all of the nation's airports. Airport operatives are also to be trained in the use of fire fighting equipment and in the appropriate response to fire emergency situations. It has been argued that if all airport operatives were trained in the appropriate response to fire and other emergencies, the losses in the Port Harcourt Sosoliso tragedy would have been minimised.

In early October a new managing director was appointed for the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria as part of these turn around measures.

George Esezobor Uriesi, the new managing director appears to have been injected with the same revolutionary instinct as the minister and is determined to move the agency to the next level.

In his first meeting with workers, Uriesi enjoined them to prepare for transformational change. In his own words: 'We are in a dicey situation. Our dwindling revenue collection presents a serious existential threat to FAAN. We are struggling to pay salaries and meet our basic financial obligations from month to month. We cannot continue like this. We are going to have to change the way we think and act in our business. Our survival as a going concern depends on this.'

Also in line with president's transformation agenda the minister is carrying out an airport terminals renovation and upgrade programme, the first phase of which will be executed at 11 airports across the country.

The renovation and upgrade projects will entail redesign of the exterior facades of the buildings to give them a modern look, expansion of the footprints of some of the buildings to create additional capacity, circulation space and the opportunity for increased commercial offerings, redesign and construction of the interior of the buildings to give a modern look and feel, and to deliver a comfortable, ambient and pleasing environment to airport users which includes new floors, new ceilings, new toilets, new signage, new check-in areas and counters, effective air conditioning and ease of passage for passengers.

In addition to these upgrades the minister has assured that the aviation industry would be contributing 30 per cent of its earnings to the Federation Account from next year.

Speaking to the Senate Committee on Aviation in Abuja, the minister said that since the Federal Government alone could not fund the infrastructure deficit in the sector, efforts were being intensified to improve the revenue generation capacities of all the agencies under her ministry.