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COMMUNIQUE OF 18TH ANNUAL LAAC SEMINAR WHICH HELD AT THE NCAA ANNEX ON April 26th 2012 with the theme: “Evolving a roadmap for transformation of the air transport sector in Nigeria “

COMMUNIQUE OF 18TH ANNUAL LAAC SEMINAR WHICH HELD AT THE NCAA ANNEX ON April 26th 2012 with the theme: “Evolving a roadmap for transformation of the air transport sector in Nigeria “

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How the transport sector could serve as a catalyst for transformation in any sector of the economy once again attained front burner status as experts and stakeholders in the aviation sector converged in Lagos to examine how to sustain a formidable road map to turn the aviation industry into one of the major planks of development.
 
The seminar with the theme: “Evolving a road map for transformation of the air transport sector in Nigeria “, being the eighteenth in the series of the League of Airports & Aviation Correspondents (LAAC), annual event provided another platform for experts, leaders and players in the sector to examine issues bordering on how to evolve a workable and sustainable template for turning around the gateway to economic development.
 
The seminar  drew participants from aviation parastatals including the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA),Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), the Nigeria Police, airlines, ancillary service  providers    including Nigerian Aviation Handling Company ( NAHCO), Plc, Skyway  Aviation  Handling Company Limited ( SAHCOL), Para- military agencies including Nigeria Customs Service, Immigration and other  stakeholders.
 
Setting the tone for the seminar, the chairman of LAAC, Mr Chukwuemeke  Iwelunmo explained that the theme of this year’s seminar is apt given recent developments in the industry , stating that the transformation train appears to have come at the appropriate time, given the obvious decay of airport operational equipment and infrastructure resulting from  neglect by government.
 
Identifying the eleven airports remodeling project as a major plank of the transformation agenda of government, Iwelumo observed that the aviation sector was on its way to regaining its lost glory.
 
He applauded the leadership courage of the current minister of aviation, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah, in tackling the myriad of infrastructural challenges in the industry; even as he observed the pains domestic operators are grappling with over failure to complete the installation of the air field lighting system of the 18 left runway at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.
 
He called on the minister to expedite action in making public the outcome of the report of the committee set up last year to investigate the high cost as well as scarcity of aviation fuel.
 
Giving his assessment of the state of affairs of the aviation sector, he brought to the fore the current travails of private sector carriers, which is accentuated by the absence of a national carrier, even as he canvassed the strengthening of capacity for the airlines by government.
 
Others issues that he dwelt on revolved around the need for airlines to pay up their debts to enable aviation service providers meet their statutory obligation.
Conference examined the challenge of dearth of pilots and engineers and other key professionals in the industry, which has become obvious owing largely to inability to train younger professionals to replace the old ones.
 
Considering the obvious security challenge in the country, conference notes that there is need to ensure adequate security in all the airports, as well as the need for all security gadgets installed to be in optimal capacity, rather than exposing irregularities in the system.
 
Conference however calls on government to consider the media as partner in developing the aviation and allied sectors of the economy, even as it continues to condemn in the strongest terms, the lingering sealing off of the Press Centre at the Presidential Wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.
 
While delivering the key note address, the director general of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority ( NCAA), Dr Harold Demuren, noted that the conference theme is symmetrical  with the master plan of the aviation , which was unveiled in Abuja by the minister of aviation.
 
Demuren noted that apart from the development of a master plan, an implementation framework is necessary to confront the sector’s numerous challenges.
Key among the components of the master plan, which the minister has unveiled for the industry include how to develop hubs in line with international standards and best practices; develop the requisite capacity and manpower to meet the needs in the industry.
 
Others are the need to change the business model of the industry into self sustaining model, through increased private sector participation to reduce financial burden on government; maximize the contribution to the social-economic development of the Nigerian economy as well as the attendant foreign direct investment.
 
On the harsh economic climate resulting in airlines groaning, he canvassed the need for government to encourage the financial institutions to provide financial instruments that would ensure local airlines have access to low interest rate on loans.
 
The presentation did not hesitate to canvass a regime of waivers for aircraft parts imported by domestic airlines, as doing such will afford local carriers the needed revenue to improve their operations, even as it noted that funds accruable could be used for aircraft purchase and training of personnel.
 
The issue of airport tariff and charges that should be reviewed was brought to the front burner, even as government was urged to look into how the needed succor should be provided for local operators.
 
In his keynote address, the minister of aviation, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah, canvassed for synergy among stakeholders in the ongoing efforts to transform the sector, even as she called for consolidation among domestic airlines to enhance their capacity in a globally competitive environment.
The minister also unfolded plans to partner the ministry of petroleum to ensure the availability of aviation fuel at affordable prices.
 
On the vexed issue of security  and the sealing off of the Press Centre, the minister affirmed that as regrettable and inconveniencing as the matter appears, government is resolute in not taking lightly issues of security even as he expressed optimism that something positive is in the offing.
 
In his contribution, president of Aviation Round Table affirmed that the challenges the Nigerian aviation industry is grappling with , is not different  from what other  parts of the world are grappling with , even as he raised concerns over the  calibre of professionals who drew the road map for the sector, which is serious need for reassessment.
 
Ore highlighted that the validity of the roadmap, could only be ascertained if it had the input of stakeholders, before it could be subjected to serious analysis and ultimate endorsement.
 
In his contribution, Mr Gbenga Olowo canvassed a rechristening of the seminar’s theme, to reflect understanding the road map for the aviation sector, even as he called for self examination by all players in the sector on why aviation growth and development has taken a nosedive in the past few years.
 
He raised issues bordering on ageing professionals in the industry, the bust and boom of many domestic airlines, the factors responsible for the growth of the industry, and surgical operations financially on why Nigerian carriers are not doing well at the expense of other carriers.
 
His presentation was not limited to how the creation of a level playing field, will bring about four strong carriers out of the 22 carriers on the list of the NCAA, as continuous injection of funds into the carriers without proper consolidation is the way to go for the industry.
 
Olowo canvassed that until the right policy is in place, through government supported consolidation, operators could pull their aircraft together to form a strong carrier, such that there are sufficient aircraft for the strong carriers to emerge, through what he described as “Magnet approach”.
 
The harsh experience of many domestic carriers has made Nigerian operators a good case study of how not to run an airline, with a schedule that cannot guarantee profitability.
 
The state of Nigerian airports also drew the attention of speakers. He called for the remodeling of the airports based on the airport master plan instead of remodeling in beats and inconveniencing airport users and operations.
 
On the part of the Unions in the industry, the president of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria ( ATSSSAN), Comrade Benjamin Okewu noted that rather than criticize the road map of the ministry of aviation, it is incumbent to rally round the transformation train of government to ensure that ongoing projects are not thwarted for the ultimate benefits of aviation stakeholders.
 
At the level of the unions, he noted that the clarion call is to keep abreast with the transformation agenda of the government and support the ministry, which appears from experience to have had the courage to remodel the airports.
 
On the controversial issue of setting up a national carrier, Okewu affirmed that the time is now to set up a national carrier, which is instrumental to the development of airport hubs, manpower development and operational capacity that could provide the platform to compete with foreign carriers.
 
If the manpower depletion in the aviation sector must be addressed, the establishment of a national carrier is key is closing the gap.
 
With the increasing passenger traffic, there is no going back on the need for government to remodel the airports, as a model for the development and growth of the industry.
 
In his contributions, the managing director of First Nation Airways, Mr Kayode Odukoya called for consistency in government transformational measures that will fast track the growth and development of the aviation sector.
 
The operators, he affirmed are well aware of the operational challenges of the industry, which government could have a full understanding of, if a forum is created for input gathering.
 
The need to find a common thread and work out ways of pursuing it is key to the development of the industry, even as access to robust funding at minimal interest rate remains key as the indicators that will form the pathway for the recovery of the industry from collapse.
 
Conference also considered ways and means of interfacing aircraft manufacturers, with funding and acquisition window that will be good for the sustenance of the industry, with reduced interest rates.
 
The mix of long haul operators and the distribution of passengers to the hubs must be given adequate consideration, as it opens opportunities for Nigerian operators to provide fueling, catering and other revenue enhancing window.
 
Discussions, as the setting up of a carrier will boost the nation’s economy amid the plethora of investment window it offers without injection of public funds, rather it will be purely private sector driven.
 
In his presentation, the managing director of Nigeria Airspace Management Agency ( NAMA),  Engineer Nnamdi Udoh,  called to domestication of whatever model is adopted as a road map for the development of the aviation sector, that is predicated on a foundation that could endure.
 
He also called for realistic target given the peculiarities of the Nigerian environment, even as he cautioned against ambitious projects that could be realistic, timely and measurable.
 
He raised a poser: If there is a robust business plan before government could be swayed by sentiments to float a national carrier without recourse to the sustainability of such a carrier.
 
His presentation also touched the raw nerve of the industry, which he described as proliferation of unviable carriers, proposing mergers and consolidation as a way forward.
 
Mr. Chris Aligbe in his presentation applauded the minister of aviation for the giant strides in coming up with a roadmap for the industry which never existed. He called on stakeholders to key into it irrespective of its deficiencies. He however, disagrees with the floatation of a national carrier, owned and operated by government. Rather, he recommends flag carriers operated by private concerns to fly the nation’s flag.
 
He recalled the absence of political will by past ministers of aviation to turn around the sector.
If the airline sub sector must be delivered from collapse, the hiccup of owner manager syndrome must be removed, because failure by the operators to look inwards has not accelerated the growth and development of the industry.
 
This has become imperative, as the need for government to by way of legislation and policy create a platform that will bring about the consolidation of domestic carriers, because examples abound all over the world on how government policy has accelerated the growth and sustenance of the airline industry.
 
There must be alternatives on the way, in the fast tracking of a roadmap for the industry as the roadmap that accentuated the building of a new terminal in Abuja, the MMA 2, facility, as well as the building of a new terminal at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.
 
Except operators come together on how to forge mergers and consolidation, the existing carriers will pale into insignificance, when the new national carrier if floated.
In the open forum, the national president of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), Engineer Isaac Balami, observed the porous service delivery by airlines, which have fallen below the bar in service delivery characterized by incessant flight delays and cancellation, which is dovetails into poor training for their personnel.
 
His presentation raised posers over the expatriate quota in the aviation sector, which has reduced indigenous professionals to be second fiddle, affirming that if operators harp on training of Nigerians, the industry could move forward, as empowerment is a key indicator in the quest for transformation.
 
Stakeholders also raised concerns over the seemingly cosmetic measures taken to turn around the aviation industry, not minding the deficiencies in the new approach at righting the wrongs of over many years.
 
Wrapping up the discussions, managing director of IRS Airlines calls for inclusion of all strata of the industry, including identifiable and achievable milestones, as well as the need to address the security challenges as the way to make the roadmap workable, even as he called for proper identification of the challenges of the industry, rather than a diagnosis of the industry.