An aviation expert, Captain Dele Ore, has suggested that the federal government should henceforth pursue a deliberate policy in the sector that will see Nigerians at the cockpit of aircraft in the fleet of the country’s indigenous carriers.

Captain Ore, who was Director of Operations in the defunct national carrier, the Nigeria Airways, made the suggestion during an interview with Aviationline executives in Lagos recently.

According to him, a Nigerianisation of the cockpit of aircraft flying in the country’s airspace has become necessary for safety, security and economic considerations.

“Because of the preponderance of foreign pilots manning the cockpit of air planes in the fleet of indigenous airlines in the country, Nigerian trained pilots roam the streets jobless whereas expatriates gain experience at the expense of our citizens only to relocate back home to swell their country’s economy,” he explained.

There is no gainsaying, he said, that the dominance of our cockpit by foreigners will jeopardise safety in our airspace apart from putting our indigenous manpower out of job,” he insisted.

Having our own indigenes in the cockpit is one of the ways to empower the local aviation industry to the point of driving the national economy apart from strengthening indigenous airlines to enable them compete favourably  with their foreign counterparts which now dominate our airspace under the guise of Open Skies Agreement. Expatriate pilots, according to Captain Ore, apart from being unfamiliar with our peculiar terrain, are not better than Nigerian trained expertise that are usually discriminated against on the flimsy excuse that they do not possess the required flying hours to qualify them for employment.

“Do you gain experience in the bedroom or waiting room of people; unless these people are given priority to man the cockpit in their land of origin where they have every comparative advantage, our indigenous pilots will remain idle,” Captain Ore, now Director, Business and Strategy, Aero Consult Limited, a Lagos based aviation training and consulting outfit, further noted.

Recall that no fewer than over a thousand indigenous pilots have been classified as idle with some of them settling for menial jobs at the airports in order to keep their body and soul together despite the stupendous resources expended on their training by their parents.

“It is unacceptable that these indigenous pilots, having trained at exorbitant costs, end up roaming the streets or go into some other jobs in order to make ends meet or offset the loans taken by their parents to train them; whereas their foreign counterparts who are not as proficient are given preference,” he further said.

Captain Ore noted that the stunted growth being experienced in the local aviation sector is essentially due to the deliberate refusal of indigenous carriers to invest consciously in manpower training and route development, pointing out that government should make training mandatory and a requisite for granting Air Operation Certificate (AOC) to indigenous carriers.

 According to him, government should make it mandatory for prospective airlines to submit their manpower training proposal before being issued with AOC or when existing ones have cause to apply for expatriate quota, the Interior Ministry should demand of them a training plan to replace such expatriates being request for with at least four Nigerians.

“If we don’t make that conscious effort, the airlines will just play around with us and the end result is that we are calling for danger in the future,” he said.

In a related development, Captain Ore called for the right sizing of personnel in the aviation agencies such that administrative staff will not outnumber their technical counterparts in the critical areas of inspection and regulatory functions.

He gave the instance of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, where, at a time, there was a shortage of inspectors, whereas there was overwhelming number of administrative personnel.

“Really I believe that it is time to right size; that is, while you are reducing staff at one end while you need to increase at another end in order to have technical manpower in sufficient number and who are highly qualified,” the seasoned aviator proffered.

While commending the present administration’s decision to complete all projects under the airports’ remodelling exercise, Captain Ore said we should not lose focus on the mode of dispensing the funds accruing from the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA, which was expended on the projects under the previous administration.

According to him, the funds were dispensed without recourse to the rules and this is criminal; the principal actors should be made to pay appropriately for their sins. “They should go to jail for flouting the rules guiding such expenditure under the Civil Aviation Policy, 2006, Section 75, to be specific, which is very clear that the money should be domiciled in the federation account, controlled by the NCAA and appropriated via a National Assembly legislation and not by the Ministry’s fiat as it was done under the last administration,” he emphasised.

Continuing, he said, there must be accountability and transparency unlike what we all witnessed whereby funds were diverted to overheads that had no relevance to the projects; hence the abandonment of some of them midway as we have in the case of the Port-Harcourt International Airport terminal. According to him, if the statutory procedure had been followed, the $500 million Chinese loan for the construction of five terminals in Lagos, Kano, Port-Harcourt, Enugu and Abuja could have been unnecessary and FAAN free of the burden now placed on it to repay from its Internally Generated Revenue, IGR.