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Nigeria far from local aircraft production

The Federal Government recently expressed its readiness to partner the Magnus Aircraft Manufacturing industry in Hungary to establish an assembling plant and begin to manufacture in Nigeria from start to finish before the end of the Buhari administration.

However, concerns have been raised as to how ready Nigeria is to commence production of aircraft considering the fact that there are currently little or no modalities on ground to drive the project. Above all, has no track record to facilitate the market of these aircraft to other countries who may be interested in buying.

In addition to these concerns, experts say the aviation sector has more pressing demands such as the poor airport infrastructure, low operating hours of most Nigerian airports, airlines’ low access to foreign exchange and collapsed runway lights. Notably, all of these can mar the Federal Government’s efforts in running an effective aircraft manufacturing firm.

Checks show that countries renowned for aircraft production facilities include France, Germany, Spain, United Kingdom, Brazil and the United States. With Airbus aircraft mostly produced in Europe, Embraer aircraft in Brazil and Boeing in the United States.

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Experts have also raised concerns on why Hadi Sirika, the minister of aviation, chose Magnus Aircraft Manufacturing in Hungary as its technical partner for production of airplanes considering its low popularity in Africa and across the world.

Seyi Adewale, CEO, Mainstream Cargo Limited, says he does not see any capacity within Nigeria as of today where the government can set up an aircraft production facility.

Adewale says the closest Nigeria has is the Aero hangar where aircraft are stripped and few checks are done on them.

He mentions that Ethiopia is an example of a country where this project can strive as it has a comprehensive aircraft Maintenance and Repair Overhaul (MRO), which took them several years to build, sustain and retain trust.

“The government needs to be more open to us and let us know the kind of arrangements they have. Will the aircraft be built for Nigeria in Hungary? As of today, I see no evidence of that. Even if all modalities are in place for production of aircraft in Nigeria, who will patronise us?

“Where is the market? What kind of airplanes will they produce? The aviation market is a very competitive one. We don’t want the government to do white elephant project. It is not something that is feasible. I can’t even conceive the idea,” he states.

BusinessDay’s checks show that aside from the renowned aircraft manufacturing firms in the world, other countries that have tried to build their own commercial planes include China (C19 China), Russia (Yakolev series) and Japan (Suzuki). Till date, these aircraft are yet to get certifications beyond their respective countries.

For Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst, the idea of producing airplanes in Nigeria may be a good one but wonders why the Federal Government chose Hungary.

“What history does Hungary have in the production of aircraft? Can Nigeria market these planes beyond the country? Will Hungary be able to get us the certification of that aircraft beyond the Nigerian airspace based on their track record?” Ohunayo asks.

He says when the government begins to jump out of its roadmap for the aviation sector it shows something is wrong, adding that the minister just has about a year and few months to complete his term in office.

This project may not be sustainable as a new administration may not buy into the vision, which may result in another white-elephant project.

“When you go into aircraft production, it takes over 20 years for you to get results. It takes a lot of money. Will the incoming government be interested in this? China, Russia and some other countries have tried to produce planes in the last 20 years and those planes have not gone beyond their airspace in terms of orders from people and in certification.

“Airplane production is a 50-year developmental programme. Do we have that patience for that? We need patience and a lot of money for this. In this country, once a government leaves and another even from the same party emerges, policies are trashed. I think it is a big risk,” he says.

Magnus Aircraft is an aviation company based in Hungary that specialises in the production of UL, LSA, and VLA type aircraft (Ultra-light and Very light aircraft). These aircraft are mostly for chartered operations or used as training aircraft in aviation schools.

Alexander Nwuba, managing director, Smile Air Ghana and former MD, Associated Airlines and WestAir Benin, says having studied a Magnus aircraft it is not the path to economic or aviation development.

Nwuba notes that even the Asians that are famous for copying as a path to development on a national level do not get there by assembly.

Airplanes are easy to build, kits abound; this is not the era of the Wright Brothers, we know enough about aeronautics that a better path will be to engage our universities and polytechnic in the design of an aircraft looking to optimise existing ideas, he states.

He says the current progress of seeking how much to invest in Magnus aircraft is another structured mistake.

John Ojikutu, aviation security consultant and secretary general of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), says if the government must produce airplanes, it must be private sector driven, saying the government has no business investing in aviation.

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