STAR INTERIEW : NIGERIA BLEEDS FROM OPEN SKIES AGREEMENT

AVIATIONLINE: There are excess administrative personnel as against technical staff in all the aviation parastatal with so much wage bill. What do you think should be done with them?

Captain Dele Ore, Director Business and Strategy Aeroconsult
Captain Dele Ore, Director Business and Strategy Aeroconsult

CAPTAIN DELE ORE:

Excess administrative staff, I would say, in most of the parastatals, exists. And there is no gainsaying about wage bill. In fact, wage bill, to me is not the most important thing; rather, that in some cases, this excess administrative staff tends to confuse issues. They tend to compare themselves with those technical staff who are inspectors and who are so important to the extent that if they have their way they will deny the technical people what is their legitimate right. And such denials, in case of, let’s say, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, or the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, could affect safety because if anybody’s morale is lowered, it means that it is very easy that the person will not be motivated to do the job and the safety will be jeopardised.

Really I believe that it is time to right size because in some cases while you are reducing in one end, you may need to increase in the other end in order to have technical people in sufficient number and who are also highly qualified.

When we mentioned it a few years ago that a place like the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, was overstaffed, people misconstrued it. We were looking at the size of the agency then and the number of aircraft on her registry and comparing that with the world average, they have too many people, in your own language now, on the pay roll. But in effect the agency was very short of manpower in the area of inspection, the technical area, they were very short which meant that the ground personnel, the administrative staff, they were far in excess of what is required and there was need to reduce. And while reducing that, there is the need to increase the number of inspectors so that they will be adequate. They will be in the required number and they will be qualified people that can be relied upon.

AVIATIONLINE: There is manpower glut in the aviation sector. Many of them roam the streets. How can this problem be solved

CAPTAIN DELE ORE: Yes, it is very unfortunate but it is also more or less directly like the first question we raise.

Who are the people who determine who is to be employed? Who will advise the chief executive officer? Is it the same excess administrative staff who don’t want anybody to come in? Otherwise, they themselves feel threatened.

There are too many of the technical manpower of this our industry, to use your own parlance, they are roaming the streets, why will they be roaming the streets? Simply because they are not usefully engaged. Why will they be roaming the streets? By now most of them are looking for other means of livelihood otherwise they will starve of hunger. They have to roam the streets hoping that they would have one connection; somebody who happens to know somebody who can put in a word for them to get a job somewhere.

And it is very unfortunate; why should this situation be with us for so long a time? Aviation Round Table, ART, an organisation founded by my good self which today by the grace of God, a former President of the organisation having handed over to a colleague who is now putting more impetus into it and they are now moving forward after about 30 years for things to begin to happen again. I have over and over again that one the government needs to change policy and ensure that will tackle issues from the source.

The source is that the airlines should be made to employ our children who have been trained and qualified.

They may not have the experience; they cannot have the experience because you don’t gain experience from the bedroom or from somebody’s sitting room or waiting room, waiting in his office. You must have to be employed first. The policy must change that every aircraft that is based in Nigeria, whether registered or not in Nigeria must have a Nigerian on board the aircraft, on the flight deck.

We are tackling the case of the pilot first. If we have a Nigerian in every aircraft and if you book at the number on the NCAA registry we would either be doubling that number or the number of people to be employed or at least appreciably we would be reducing the number that is roaming the streets.

Which means we must compel, through policy, the airlines when they are applying for the Air Operating Certificate (ADC), their plan of the Nigerianisation of their fleet, their plan to give employment opportunity to our children and their plan to be sure that they don’t shut up and shut out our people, not withstanding little or no experience from gaining the required experience by being given opportunity for gainful employment.

You cannot get it quite right if you allow airlines to insist that our children must go and get the rating at the expense of their parents because these parents have sold properties to train these people in different institutions. Having being qualified, it is only the experience they are talking about now. How do they get the experience our children must go and get the rating at the expense of their parents because these parents have solid properties to train these people in different institutions?

Having being qualified, it’s only the experience they are talking about now. How do they get the experience or type rating? And this type rating the airlines are not ready to pay for.DELTA AIRLINES BOEING AIRCRAFT copy

There must be a conscious effort; a conscious policy that will make sure that these Nigerians are given opportunity and the airlines would provide the training at their own expense.

However, the second leg of this same problem also is that, the airlines deceive the government to say that they don’t have experienced Nigerians. They play on experience. Because they don’t have enough; they plead with government to allow them apply through the Internal Affairs Ministry for expatriate quota to bring in expatriates at the detriment of Nigerians.  These expatriates they bring are not necessarily more experienced than our own people. They (the expatriates) come here, gain experience and go out to go and be commanders somewhere else. I belief the Ministry of Interior should be told that when airlines ask for one single permit, I mean, expatriate quota, they must give their training plan for no fewer than four Nigerians to replace that one person.  And they must train four Nigerians for every expatriate they are bringing to our country. If we don’t make that conscious effort, they will play around with us and the eg for danger for the future.

First, there will continuously be shortage of Nigerians to service the sector. By the time they are employed somehow, in about 10 or 15 years’ time if such people who have just been pushed into the industry, they have not flown under the supervision of Nigerians they are not  learning anything. They will build up experience, but the experience, but the experience is worthless or no experience at all. Some people cook up this number of hours they lack in their bedroom. Oh, you want 500 hours, here is 5000 hour with no experience. The experience may just be 400 or 500 hours experience. And you cannot promote such people to be commandeers. On the day check they might just do well and you promote them but we are postponing the evil pay. Such people, sooner or later, they will jeopardise safety and kill people.

AVIATIONLINE: It is being suggested that airports in the country that are not economically viable should be converted to maintenance base with all the technical facilities put in place there. What is your take on that?

CAPTAIN DELE ORE:

It might sound logical but it is the worst suggestion I have ever heard of. I don’t agree with it because what does it take to make an airport economically viable? Airlines must operate into the place. The frequency into the place, the number of passengers they fly into the place, even the tonnage of cargo into the place, frequency of operations is what will make the place profitable. And the place cannot be profitable if we don’t have airlines that are ready to develop the route. I make bold to tell you that when you ‘killed’ Nigeria Airways, so many things ‘died’ with it.

With only one passenger or two passengers, we were able to operate scheduled flight on Nigeria Airways’ operation. In fact, to attract people to fly, Kano-Yola-Maiduguri, back; in some days it is reversed: Kano-Maiduguri-Yola and back to Kano.  Sometimes, it could be Kano-Gusau-Sokoto and back to Lagos or vice versa. On several occasions we carried just two passengers. We were developing the route.

AVIATIONLINE (Cuts in): Two passengers on what category of aircraft, wide bodied aircraft?

CAPTAIN DELE ORE:

No, no, no! We were using Fokker 27, then which was 40-seater; and DC 3 65/66 configuration. During the Nigerian civil war we gave these aircraft to the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, The DC 3, we call it D47, Douglas Commercial, a 28-seater.

The airlines that want to develop routes must go for the type of airplane that is economically viable on that route and I am telling you, as long as the airlines are not surviving and they are not operating to even economically viable places, these so-called uneconomically viable airports would remain uneconomically viable. We must make conscious efforts to develop these places.

Now contemplating converting some of these unviable airports to maintenance base is out of it. Maintenance base or what you call Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul, MRO, should be added available facility; not that you are converting the place. Some of these places should also have the MRO and the MRO is the facility that will attract traffic to the place. Some airlines will plan their night stop, that is, they will terminate their flights in such airports with MRO so that they can do their maintenance overnight. And the MROs are parts of the airport that serve as catalyst for accelerated growth. No matter the jungle you have cleared to establish an airport, they attract commerce, they attract people to come into the place. So it is not just the MROs standing alone. The airport must have facilities that will constitute added capability to the airport such as the MRO. Converting the airport into will only worsen our situation.

AVIATIONLINE: Do you think domestic airlines are doing enough in the training of manpower?

CAPTAIN DELE ORE:

I have said it, and I will not stop saying it; that when Nigeria Airways was assassinated, killed, murdered, a lot of things, including training, also went with it. Training stopped. This resulted into what we call poaching the Nigeria Airways ex-staff, to a limit. The people being poached are as at today, expired. The people being poached are too old today to be initiated into the new technology. Some people used to call us ‘analogue’ because we now live in a digital world. Nevertheless, I believe that nobody is getting younger.

The airlines will rather pick up a 21 year-old staff, maximum, 28 years old, who hasn’t got or constituted some sort of habit that they will train in their own procedures, in their own quality standards, safety standard and will stay there and rise through the ranks. Remember, that a sumptuous soup requires a lot of money to cook it. Are the airlines ready to spend money? My response to that is: No! These staffs were attractive for poaching and readily available at a time but at today they are no longer available. Yes, they are no longer available to poach. They have expired already. So, I believe that they (the airlines) are not doing anything at all regarding training. That is it. One or two people might say we have trained four pilots, I am advocating that they should train 40. If each of the airlines in the country should train 40 pilots each, then you can imagine the quality of staff we will have. If actually they put money into the training of these people, they will be forced to employ them because they have invested in them and you will not find them roaming the streets. The poor parents of these people have invested in their children. Some sold their houses; some sold their businesses to send these children for training and five years after completing their training no returns. Some of them even five years after qualifying, they are still looking for employment opportunities. But once these airlines train these children, they will monitor such individuals they have invested their money on. They will create a situation whereby if only they will be on the flight deck to observe initially for one month, two months or three months as the case may be. At least they are watching what a safe operation should look like. From time to time, you take them back to the simulators to practice again. Even if this is done for two years before they get rated, it is money well spent; it is a good investment and they are giving opportunities to such Nigerians.

AVIATIONLINE: Domestic airlines in Nigeria are like patients with terminal ailments, they hardly live beyond ten years. How can their life span be elongated?

CAPTAIN DELE ORE:

I am telling you, the life span can be elongated if there is a concerted effort by government. These people (indigenous airlines) are being killed by government policy; inconsistent policy, unworkable policy. What I will call hostile policy that is detrimental to the survival of its own countries but allow foreign carriers to have a field day. I believe that I won’t call them (the airlines) patients with terminal illness granting we brought it upon them. When I say ‘we’, I mean, the system brought it upon them.

No airline can survive with the rate at which they are buying fuel, for instance. As much as 40% of the operational requirement/expenses come from the money they have to put down for fuel. If fuel is expensive, then there is no way any airline can survive. These ailing airlines are not patients, per se, but we turn them comatose; in which case they are struggling to exist. I agree with you as you rightly said they hardly survive up to six years or maximum of ten years before they fizzle out of the system. There was a time when the Chief Executive Officer of a company that is about eight years or so old now said that if the clime is too hot, get out of the system; referring to other Nigerian carriers. So these same airlines now, let’s wait and see what will happen at the 10th year or sixth year or 11th year; let’s wait. Because I only mention the aspect of fuel; what of about the maintenance of aircraft?  We failed, we refused, we were unable to construct, to at least, construct MROs all over the place, besides the one in Akwa Ibom which is lying fallow as the government has not decided whether the government will join with them or not. We still ferry aircraft from here to Addis-Ababa and other places; at what cost?  You cannot survive under such unnecessary expenses. The manpower needs. Because we failed, we refused and neglected to train Nigerians and you want to keep your operations going. So you bring foreigners here. What is spent to maintain one foreigner will maintain six Nigerians. And when they go home every two months, you pay their air fare in addition to other social welfare package they enjoy which Nigerians don’t enjoy. I believe that if you allow the airlines a free hand and you provide the enabling environment, provided they also have adequate financial base, operational lease; either dry or wet lease or purchase of the aircraft will be more certain and profitable. But when you are weak financially, when the aircraft goes for maintenance, the people will grab you and say, pay us what you owe us: the maintenance, the demurrage and everything before the aircraft can be released.  Some of the aircraft when they go like that they never come back again. I believe also that there is below a predatory action; what I will call ‘man eating man’ in order to survive. They start cutting corners, as far as price is concerned in order to beat the other person.