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Government must make deliberate effort to salvage airlines – Olowo

Mr Gbenga Olowo is the president, Aviation Round Table ART. In this interview with Aviation Correspondent, CHUKWUEMEKE IWELUNMO, he bares his mind on critical issues affecting the country’s aviation sector and ways of solving myriads of problems affecting the growth o the industry, – Excerpts

A lot of Nigerians are conversant with the quarterly breakfast meeting usually organized by Aviation Roundtable but do not seem to understand what ART represents. Is it a pressure group, an advocacy group or a mere non-governmental organization?
Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ARTs) is an Aviation Professional Organization with unambiguous mission statement as stated. To ensure the Advancement of Nigerian Aviation Industry that will consistently promote Safety and Professionalism through effective working relationship with Government and Knowledge sharing with all stakeholders.
Many of your breakfast meetings organized in the past with recommendations made at the end but there is little or nothing achieved in terms of getting the government to implement the recommendations, does this not dampen your morale?:

That’s not totally correct. Our quarterly breakfast meetings (designed essentially for achieving the objective of knowledge sharing) have had a couple of the recommendations being implemented.
Our red alert warning on possible fuel contamination through tanker haulage invited NCAA and Fuel suppliers spontaneous reaction, the need to strengthen NCAA through undue political interference by reducing Aviation ministry to a junior ministry, the very many advocacy in favor of Nigerian Airlines, etc have yielded very positive results .We believe in allowing superior
opinion to prevail hence we are not deterred when and where some of the recommendations are not heeded. Posterity will bear us out.
Aviation sector in Nigeria enjoys the category A1 status conferred by the US FAA just as the country has emerged with distinction from various audit exercises but the challenges still remain in terms of the operating environment, the high mortality rate of the airlines with some of them
failing to last up to 10 years in the market and so on. Where have we really gotten it wrong in the sector?

Nigeria and Managers of our agencies are very clever. We do know how to pass examinations. How I wish that translates to efficient and optimal service delivery?
Motion does not necessarily translate to activity neither does programme translate to progress so says my Pastor.
Go to all the airports in the country and see how you score the toilets, passenger processing, one hour or more long traffic from airport toll gate to the terminal building without serious security process, very hot, rowdy and not too sanitized environment, so many check points unlike other
civilized airports, chaotic and oven arrival halls.
One can go on and on with long list of dissatisfaction and disaffection at our airports. Of what use therefore is passing FAA Cat 1 ? Thanks for passing in any case but please lets see the effect of the passing safe for the ability of Nigeria registered aircraft to operate to the US.
Our numerous brilliant graduates are just not employable given same scenario. It is simply frustrating. This of course could be directly or indirectly related to the high mortality rate of our Airlines, i.e.passing exams with no value added.
Do you foresee the present government changing the status quo? What should the government do to drive the sector to begin to significantly contribute to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?

Transport Minister and his aviation colleague should be tasked with delivering 1 % of the GDP by 2020 at an annual growth rate of 25 -30%. It is presently 0.4% when small country such as Spain delivers up to 5%.
A grossly under-performing sector. Measurable task with timeline is the answer and stake holders including ART do have ways and means to achieving such deliverables.
Recently, there were concerns about the frequency of flight delays and cancellations following the report released by the NCAA which indicated that about 50 percent of flights operated in the first quarter of 2016 were delayed, what does this portend for the sector?

Delays could be as a result of so many factors . Lately Aviation Fuel poor supply I am aware is responsible for most delays. Airlines insolvency is also contributory as purchase is now on cash and carry basis to the exclusion of former credit lines. Technical, VIP movement , late
arrival if operating aircraft, weather etc are some other reasons but with varying remedies for passenger comfort.

In recent times, there were reports of dwindling passengers’ traffic at the indigenous level. What do you think is responsible for this reduction in the number of air travellers resulting in, for instance, an airline going to Abuja with less than 50 per cent of passengers occupying the available seats?:

Economic activity generally has declined 2015/2016 year on year due low government expenditure which is the highest element of our national income .
Private sector participation in all sectors will stimulate economic growth while government ensures good standards through regulation. Reverse is the case presently and so without government spending and annual budget for almost half of the year, economic activity automatically declines.

Are you in support of airlines merging their passengers?

Absolutely Yes. It is called Pooling. It is a process of cooperation that will remove unnecessary competition, reduce waste, and enhance yield. It should go beyond pooling of passengers to pooling of all the resources and or merger. Regrettably however , it is un Nigerian to cooperate rather its me alone die alone.

Over 80 percent of international passengers are airlifted by foreign carriers through the signing of Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) and a lot of people have called for review or abolishment of these BASAs for not being mutually beneficial, what is your take on this?
What option is there if foreign airlines do not operate the BASAs so long there are no strong Nigerian airlines to reciprocate in the face of growing demand?

Necessary condition is 3 to 4 strong airlines parading minimum of 50 modern and operational aircrafts each. We can then begin to see the need to review the BASAs absent which will result to overfull demand situation and high prices in the market.
The Nigerian Government must make deliberate effort to salvage our airlines if we are serious about reducing the pressure on Naira exchange rate as of necessity. Foreign airlines must repatriate their excess of earnings or refuse to trade in Naira as it were.
Besides, it is said that foreign airlines have stopped payment of royalties to government, what’s the implication of this?

Foreign airlines are logical in not paying royalty to government any longer. It is not justifiable in the sense that they did not prevent Nigerian Airlines from reciprocating the BASAs but for lack of Nigeria’s capacity.
Historically royalty was the compensation derived through commercial agreement between two designated airlines on a particular route and not government. Nigeria should therefore designate its airlines to all countries and all routes given very strong support going further.
Do you think government should have allowed multiple entry points to these foreign airlines? You see some of them flying to four different airports and locations in the country, is this proper, especially at a time when local airlines complain of dwindling passengers?
Present policy on multiple entry point into Nigeria as it is today is absolutely wrong and condemnable. It is robbery and by implication a breach of cabotage right. When will Nigeria begin to cherish its own for God’s sake? It is absolute erosion of domestic aviation. A foreign operator should have one point of entry into Nigeria. It could either be Lagos, Abuja, Kano ,Port Harcourt, and not both or all.
The debate on national carrier has been on for a while with the present government saying they want to bring back the carrier, no one really knows the plan of government in this area but from your own perspective do we need a new carrier and what model?

A new start up mid wife by government is very very positive . It is plus one and the more the merrier. But remember a Sickle cell father and a Sickle cell mother will undoubtedly
produce Sickle cell offsprings. If government fails to address circumstances resulting to the high mortality in the sector for these decades, any new entrant operating under same condition will surely not succeed.
We must warn though that preferential treatment as it were for Virgin Nigeria in its earlier days will be seriously resisted by the industry. The memory remains quite fresh.

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