A former Defence Adviser, Air Vice-Marshal AdebiyiOkanlawon (rtd) has asked the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to scrap the aviation ministry under its change mantra in order to make the industry more responsive to the national economy.

In an interview with Aviationline, AVM Okanlawon, who threw his weight behind calls for the scrapping of the Aviation Ministry, called for its emergence as a department in the Ministry of Transport which should be rejuvenated to have different departments for rail, road and water transportation.

According to him this is the only way the country’s aviation industry can be repositioned not only in line with the best international practices but to make it more responsive to the national economy.

He however cautioned that as soon as the merger is effected, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should be strengthened and restructured into a statutory corporation free from government interference whatsoever and given full powers to oversee the industry in line with what obtains in the advanced economies.

“To make the country’s aviation the envy of the world and a major contributor to the national economy, it has become necessary to reengineer and empower the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) into a statutory corporation free from government shackles,” AVM Okanlawon said.

According to him, we must accept the fact that the industry is very sick and the government has contributed in no small measure to the decline; the role of the ministry of aviation which government created to boost the development in the sector became instead the retrogressive constant in the downward slide of the industry as the impetuous developments embarked upon by the ever-changing ministers were not based on any master plan but on the fancy of the present occupant of the office who were in all cases non -professionals.

At present, the industry contributes a mere 0.24% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) whereas with the reforms put in place by the previous administration under former President Goodluck Jonathan, by this year the sector should contribute as much as 30%.

“This is the right time under the sweeping changes now going on in the country for government to take the lead in the re-growth of the industry and nurse it back to maturity, he added.

AVM Okanlawon’s stance is in tandem with the ECOWAS parliament’s recommendation that the Aviation Ministry be scrapped while the regulatory agency should be empowered to oversee the industry in its nation states.

“The way forward is for government to take a holistic appraisal of every aspect of the industry: policy, infrastructure, aircraft, airlines, maintenance facilities, navigation facilities, airport associated businesses, taxation as well as passengers’ patronage and protection, he suggested.

Apart from recommending that the Aviation Ministry be scrapped, the country’s former defence adviser in the USA, UK and Canada also suggested that the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) in Zaria be taken away from under the control of the Aviation Ministry to the Ministry of Education and upgraded to the status of a Federal University of Technology.

While lauding President MuhammaduBuhari for the new initiative to float a new national carrier, AVM Okanlawon said the desire of the federal government is good; a national carrier is a thing of pride if the venture is well managed while it will bring clout and competitiveness into the industry.

He pointed to Ethiopia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates as good examples of nations with viable and profitable national carrier which Nigeria can emulate, saying, “one common trend among the airlines mentioned is the patriotism of the governments and peoples of these countries.”

He however cautioned against running the proposed airline in the fashion of the liquidated one, pointing out that, the modern ownership structure styled the Public-Private-Partnership PPP, model be adopted such that  the people, government and core investors will co-own the new airline but with government having the lowest share capital.

He also had a word for the regulatory agency, the NCAA in this case, to ensure equity among the various airlines. That really is the true challenge in order to provide a level playing field for all operators to carry out their business.

AVM Okanlawonalso urged the federal government to take advantage of the comparative advantage of the country’s location as the centre of Africa to develop the Lagos airport as a hub on the continent.  His words: “In addition, develop Lagos and Lekki airports to be Africa’s number one hub. Lagos, the city of commerce, is natural because of the comparative advantage of Nigeria’s location as the centre of Africa. It stands for what Heathrow represents in the world of aviation.  (Read full details of Interview on page 12)