Pilots, engineers flee Nigeria for jobs in Canada, Middle East

Amid a tough operating environment, airline operators are finding it increasingly difficult to employ young pilots and engineers, forcing them to seek employment outside the country.

BusinessDay’s investigations show that many pilots and engineers now work for airlines and helicopter companies in the Middle East and Canada.

The high cost of aviation fuel, naira depreciation and the high taxes and surcharges have continued to eat deep into the revenues of airlines, making it difficult for them to employ young pilots who are supposed to get trained by the operators before they are absorbed into the airlines.

According to data by the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), over 60 percent young pilots are currently unemployed as many others are preparing to graduate from pilot training schools to join the already congested labour market.

Abednego Galadima, president of NAAPE, told BusinessDay that the situation of the young unemployed pilots is a reflection of the larger society, and it is also because of the rising cost of fuel prices and rising naira-dollar exchange rate, which have pushed maintenance costs higher.

Galadima said: “As part of the survival instinct, these young pilots and engineers are now going outside the country to get jobs. Our pilots and engineers are mostly employed in the Middle East now. Middle East airlines and helicopter companies employ these pilots more. Some of our engineers have also gone to Canada in search of jobs and they are getting the jobs.

“There are state governments that also train these pilots. Niger Delta trains the pilots and most of them are trained abroad.”

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He recalled that the cost of aviation fuel almost made the airlines go on strike recently, saying many airlines are struggling to survive.

“The situation is biting; so if they are unable to employ pilots at this time, it is quite understandable. But in aviation, you cannot compromise training but in this case, those that have the jobs have to get trained to maintain currency so that safety is not compromised,” he added.

During a recent visit to Air Peace, BusinessDay observed that the gate of the company was crowded with job applicants seeking to get employed as pilots, engineers and crew members.

“There was a time when job applicants crowded our office every Thursday in search of jobs. These people loiter around the premises waiting for the chairman to come and most times, he is moved with compassion to help them. He will often get the HR manager to collect their CVs and invite them for interviews and some of them will get employed after the interviews,” Stanley Olisa, spokesperson for Air Peace, said.

Olisa, however, hinted that Air Peace cannot employ all the pilots but does its best to accommodate as many as the airline can take.

Ibrahim Mshelia, owner of West Link Airlines Nigeria and Mish Aviation Flying School, said the fuel price hike is a global problem and the effects should not be magnified as if it is the cause of all the challenges facing airlines.

Mshelia said: “We are not operating aviation the way it should be in Nigeria. The manpower that is required for aviation is purely technical but we have people who have no clue about what aviation is all about. There are close to 40,000 employees working for aviation agencies now. The agencies must generate money; so they have to create surcharges.

“There are too many surcharges to raise money for the industry; so the airlines pay a lot. The service providers have surcharges they pay to the government. Aviation is supposed to be delivered with deliberate policies to cushion the effects of operating costs. When the industry is thriving, the value chain will be great and that is when employment can be generated.”

According to him, airlines are refusing to employ and train pilots because they don’t have money.

He said the surcharges are eating into the airlines’ income and making it difficult for them to train.

He said a vacuum is being created because airlines are no longer employing and training young pilots.

Mshelia said: “The way to create jobs for pilots is to look at the policies. Create a robust general aviation where someone who has one single plane can get a permit to do passenger operations. More companies will come up, if we separate the processes of the Air Operating Certificates (AOC).

“For instance, if you are doing a scheduled operation or non-schedule operation, you can get different classes of AOCs. This is to enable people to create small aviation units and people can grow there. So that as people are retiring from aviation, we are replacing them and they are being absorbed.