• Sunday, July 21, 2024
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BusinessDay

Shrinking aviation sector swells rank of idle pilots

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A lack of growth in the aviation sector is swelling the rank of unemployed Nigerian pilots.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that domestic passenger traffic is down to levels last seen in the second quarter of 2013.

Stakeholders say that regulatory failures by government agencies, lack of aviation infrastructure, and poor training of local pilots have stunted the growth of the sector, leading to an increase in unemployed Nigerian pilots.

“We currently have over 100 unemployed pilots and most of them are fresh graduates from the flying school in Zaria with valid commercial pilot’s licenses and up to 30 with current/expired jet type ratings, “Dung Rwang Pam, Chairman of Nigeria Aviation Safety Initiative (NASI) told BusinessDay.

Nigeria has Africa’s largest economy and population, yet has failed to leverage that to develop its aviation sector.

The second quarter of 2015 saw declines in domestic passenger traffic in Nigeria to less than 2.5 million passengers, the lowest levels since 2013.

Year on year, both domestic and international passenger numbers were lower, with 73,492 or 6.55 percent fewer international passengers and 335,908, or 12.39 percent fewer domestic passengers relative to the corresponding quarter of the preceding year, the NBS said in a September 2015 report, on the sector.

Pilots need to be qualified and issued with at least a commercial Pilot license by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA) to be eligible for paid employment in the aviation sector.   

Pam, of the Nigeria Aviation Safety Initiative suggested that although Nigeria presents a large market for foreign airlines operating into Nigeria, most foreign airlines are reluctant to employ Nigerian flight and cabin crew.   

He advised that regulators upgrade the training institutions to provide Air Transport Pilot License (ATPL) certification and degree academic standard type of training for Nigerian aviation professionals.

According to NCAA records, Nigeria currently has 7,103 local pilots, however, only 2,093 are in the active service. Bayo Araba, Former Instructor, Aviation School, Zaria, said that one of the problems of the aviation sector is that operators have remained reluctant to train Nigerians and give them endorsement.

“When Nigeria’s national carrier was operating, once students graduate, they get trained and join Nigeria airways. Today, the reverse is the case as majority of the companies in the industry are not ready to train, rather they need ready-made pilots,” Araba explained.

On a related subject, the market outlook according to Boeing Corporation is that Africa is expected to require additional 18,000 pilots and 22,000 maintenance professionals to effectively man its aviation sector between 2015 and 2034.

Industry watchers explained that taking this into perspective, Nigeria’s population is approximately 18 percent of Africa’s, thus the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) Zaria and Aviation International College, Ilorin, amongst others, need to graduate 162 pilots and 198 engineers/technicians annually for the next 20 years.

Stakeholders stressed that the number of students who train to fly jet aircraft is completely dependent on the employment opportunities available, as a result of GDP and growth of the industry.

“There appears to be some level of discrimination against Nigerian pilots when it comes to remunerations and conditions of employment. This is carried out under the guise that those with foreign passports are “expatriates” who possess certain unique skill-sets that we need,” Pam said.

“Flight deck crew for the Nigerian domestic carriers is usually a mixture of local and expatriates pilots. Nonetheless, the expatriates are still given preferential treatment; higher pay; company paid travel, and more leave. All of which are hardly available to the national crew.”

IFEOMA OKEKE