Captain Musa Nuhu is the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). In this interview, he described the attractiveness of the Nigerian aviation sector to investors, how the sector can tackle the scarcity of forex and updates on Azman Airline’s operations.
Unlike in other climates, more airlines have flown to Nigeria in the past four months. How would you rate the aviation industry?
There is a huge market here. The Nigerian market is not mature enough. The Nigerian market has a huge opportunity to grow.
This is why you see that many airlines are arriving in the country. We have Green Africa Airways, NG Eagle and so many more airlines coming up. I’m sure Green Africa Airways, NG Eagle are next to fly. The market is there. It is economy.
Unfortunately, due to the state of the roads, many people prefer to fly by air. So the demand is increasing and that is why you are seeing many airlines growing.
I can tell you that of the 9 million who would travel to Nigeria, probably only a million people fly regularly. So maybe only one or two million people travel to Nigeria out of a population of 200 million. It is still a virgin market. If we maintain our policies and strategies, we will create a friendly environment for the industry and it will thrive.
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What role will MRO play in creating such a friendly environment?
You know the airlines go to Europe for maintenance, but when we have the MRO, it creates jobs. You just need to get on your plane and do your maintenance there in Naira.
You don’t have to go to CBN looking for $ 100,000. You need six to seven bids and your plane is on the ground for two months waiting for money.
So that’s part of the processes and strategies put in place to help the industry grow.
What are you doing to develop general aviation in Nigeria?
Honestly, when you talk about general aviation, you’ve hit on something that is close to my heart. General aviation is the foundation of any successful aviation industry.
A thriving aviation industry in any country has good general aviation. It provides people with the basics such as experienced pilots. Airlines provide experienced management staff and engineers.
So when airlines employ them, it costs them less to train them because they already have a certain level of experience that does not come directly from flight school.
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How do you promote its policy?
We have the Civil Aviation Act before the National Assembly. Hopefully it will be adopted soon.
So once that is done, and we know what the new NCAA mandate is, we will hold a stakeholder meeting to review our bylaws. I think we need to declutter and unbundle our regulations so that the requirements of general aviation are different from those of the airlines.
They don’t present the same risk, so we have to unbundle those regulations. General aviation could be charter flights, agricultural spraying, small tourist planes, ambulances and the like.
There are so many areas of general aviation, but right now the regulations are consolidated. Someone who flies a business jet and a small plane carrying 10 people and you ask the same requirements of a Boeing 777 to Dubai? That does not make sense. When we unbundle these regulations, we believe it will boost the general aviation portion of the industry.
And when that is done, all those excess pilots and people who don’t have jobs will be absorbed. They will gain experience and move on to the larger airline industry. General aviation is very critical.
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Can you say that Nigerian airlines benefit from the Cape Town Convention about a decade later?
Not very well, no. Because we have cases where people are going to hire planes and bring them to Nigeria. They don’t pay and don’t want to release the plane. So this creates a bad reputation for the Nigerian market.
This is why I tell you that when you do things, it is not just one person but the reputation of the whole country that is at stake. Since I came on board, I have successfully dealt with three cases. with the Cape Town Convention. There was an airline that took engines but didn’t want to return them. We fought for it. There was a helicopter that was seized, we fought for it and they released it.
There was a plane that we dropped. If we didn’t do this people wouldn’t feel safe allowing their equipment into our country and even when they do it is at such an exorbitant rate that any profit the operator hoped to earn is wiped out.
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Do we have enough safety inspectors to inspect operations?
We certainly don’t have enough inspectors. This is an issue we discussed in a meeting with the department.
There are issues with the terms of service, especially in the area of pay. I cannot approach this problem unilaterally. We have documents from the wages and salaries commission. We met with the president and he confirmed that they were working on it. This will solve the problem in the short term, but I am also looking for longer term solutions.
What is happening now is not just a Nigerian problem. It is a global problem that affects even Europe and America because the government cannot pay the same fares that the airlines offer.
But, we can put some conditions in place to make it attractive to people, in early retirement, who will come here and spend 10 to 15 years of their working careers, rather than attracting only airline retirees.
I’m not against hiring retired people because they have certain experiences that we need. However, there should be a good mix of young people who will grow up in the system and spend more time than those who cannot afford more than an additional five years because they have retired from active service. The high turnover of older retirees affects the continuity of the system and makes it inefficient due to the resources spent on training them as well.
Rather, I’ll have the right mix of skilled older workers and young people to come and that’s something we’re already working on.
In recent months, Nigerian airlines have increased their air fares by up to 100%, with many attributing the increase to the scarcity of forests. What is the NCAA doing about currency issues?
The minister went to the CBN and is doing what he can, but due to the scarcity of forex the government has its own prioritization policy.
The minister fought for the airlines, but we can help ourselves by supporting the MROs the government is working on, as this will drastically reduce the number of foreign exchange airlines they would need; thus reducing foreign exchange outflows and also creating jobs. It would be a double victory for the country.
For tariffs, it is the economics of supply and demand. Remember that due to this currency difficulty, airlines do not operate their fleets at full capacity. If one of the airlines is not in the system, you are trying to fill that gap. This will place additional requirements on other routes.
Can’t airlines review their strategy by using more profitable aircraft for business?
Already, there is a paradigm shift. People are starting to realize that you can’t use a Boeing 737 for short flights. I can see Air Peace has an E-195 and plans to replace all B737s in the long run. United Nigeria uses Embraer 145. Green Africa uses ATR 42, 72.
There is one who has started to process his documents; he wants to use Embraer 145. Chanchangi wants to come back and they want to use ATR. The demand is there. The way of thinking is changing because this B737 activity is not working for us. It will take time, but it is a positive change in the industry.
What’s the update on Azman operations?
I have to tell you that Azman’s response has been very encouraging and very positive. Now they understand that it is even better for them to improve their business model. I have seen a change and I can assure you that by the time Azman complies with everything we have asked for, the public will see another Azman airline.
This is our goal. We are not here to kill anyone or to ruin an airline, but to guide them to operate safely, efficiently and to provide the necessary services to the traveling public. I just received a very impressive response from them regarding what they have done. We will start serious training for their employees next week.
Where we find gaps, they have already started to employ people and they are really working and cooperating. Honestly, I am very happy and relieved with their response.