CAPTAIN IBRAHIM KADAFIR MSHELIA is a pilot and administrator with flying experience spanning over 32 years. This astute businessman, philanthropist and strategic tinkerer with innovative ideas for stop gaps and long term fixes in the aviation subsector is also a human capacity builder having founded Mish Aviation Flying School in Ghana in 2006. His passion for the growth of the aviation industry is intense and has always insisted on what is standard for the industry. He speaks with Nigerian flight Deck on a number of issues including the need for governments in Africa to understand the difference between training institutions and commercial operations in a bid to improve the sector.
Captain Ibrahim Mshelia,CEO MishAviation Flying School
As a training institution, what is your perception of Nigeria’s aviation industry?
Since the deregulation of the Aviation Sector several decades ago, the Nigerian Aviation industry has evolved into a very huge market. The industry has so much potential; though one would say it has not been exploited fully to the larger benefit of the country, due to the inability of the industry players to exhibit the honesty/sincerity, ethics and professionalism required. In addition, successive Governments have also not been able to successfully check the incessant corruption within the service provider Government agencies nor the airlines been able to appoint honest leaders as the workers themselves have failed to stop pilfering company income etc. A lot has gone wrong with little or no effort to right the wrongs over the years. One wonders why major European, American and other carriers in middle east and Africa are making daily flights, with some doing even two frequencies daily, Nigerian Aviation, on the domestic front is only but struggling with no hope in sight for reciprocity. The avoidable challenges are too many for the operators and would be operators to grow or sustain their business favourably due to the above-mentioned factors. All these problems lead to low employment for the locals and in effect reduced clientele for the training institutions such as Mish Aviation.
To what extent would you say that your institution lived up to 2014?
2014 was a very difficult year especially for us at Mish Aviation because of several factors. The general global economic situation affected several airlines and in effect training. We train for the airline industry and therefore if it is slow, we get the effect as well. No employment, no training needs. But we have been able to struggle through and kept the hope alive.
Target in terms of students’ turnover and what is your target for 2015?
In 2015, we expect to hit our capacity target because things have improved slightly in the region especially with change of Government in Nigeria where we have our largest clients. More enquiries have come in and things have changed slightly towards the positive. We are not there yet but the hope is great and we are expecting a better yield.
There have been calls for more female enrollment in aviation careers. What is the level of female students’ patronage of your institution?
We have had a very low turnout from female candidates. Since inception in 2011, we have had only 2 females train at our institution. One for just the instrument rating (IR) renewal and the other from the scratch (ab-initio). But both of them performed extremely well. We look forward to more females in the coming years.
What is the status of your trainer aircraft fleet and how many do you have presently?
They are always in fine form as required by airworthiness requirements; we have a policy of maximum of 5 students sharing 1 plane at any point in time for the single engine training while one Multi Engine is made available for the Twin conversion and instrument rating check rides. We have 2 Cessna 172 operational now but we have 2 more stored to be deployed when we raise our capacity in the very near future. Once we expand capacity, we re-fleet to meet demand. This is not a problem at all. We are not commercial airline carrying passengers, so we do not justify more performance by lining up more planes. We rate performance on the quality and students’ ability to accomplish this skill training on time and with high performance level which is what we have been achieving at Mish Aviation. We have not had a single failure at check rides (PPL or CPL) with GCAA examiners since inception, and this is a great feat.
How has the recurring jet fuel crisis in Nigeria affected your operations and what would you proffer as possible solutions?
We do not use Jet fuel, we use Aviation Gasoline (Avgas 100LL) we also have our own depot and purchase our fuel directly from the USA and do not therefore experience fuel problem ever. We bought two ISO tanks of 25,000 litres each and rotate them between the USA and our facility in Accra. The Ghana Government has helped us greatly by granting us our own license to import and dispense our own fuel without having to deal with fuel marketers. Being professionals, we time the fuel need and delivery in such a manner that we have a ‘never see dry’ approach. That way we always have fuel at Mish Aviation for our training.
The business of training aviation professionals has become increasingly competitive. What is your impression about the growing competition and how do you intend to manage it?
We do not see the competition at Mish Aviation; we get our clients as and when we have slots open. There are only 3 schools doing what we do in the entire sub Saharan Africa and we are the only privately owned flying school among them. You can see from there that bureaucracy of Government is eliminated completely. We deliver on time and quality. So we really do not have any competition at all. Plus, we have ‘cut our coat according to our size’ business ideology, so we are doing just fine by God’s grace.
Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria has been in debate over devaluation of the nation’s currency and the exchange rate of the currency to a dollar has been changing. Do you see this development affecting your business?
Certainly it will! Our clients mainly come from Nigeria and this add up to how much Naira they would need to buy the dollars they remit to us. It has the potential to slow or even kill the training industry. This is one of the problems I highlighted earlier. In Europe and the Americas etc (Developed climes), Banks may employ in-house or keep on contract professional aviation consultants in order to advise them on effects of policies before they are pronounced and implemented, but in Nigeria and most African countries, the way we see policies emerge, appears as if those in position deliberately or ignorantly fail to seek professional advice. We need to stop and look back and emulate greater values. Secondly, those who find themselves in Governments MUST realise that training institutions are not airlines and should be treated as all other universities or schools. This has been a mistake that needs to be addressed very quickly if we want our aviation training schools to survive. The only way we can quit dependence on other developed economies for training we can easily do here at home locally ourselves. Our general mentality of going abroad for this or that MUST stop to make meaningful progress in every aspect of our national developments across Africa. It hurts me that we are still living the values of the 19thcentury but in the 21st. Its very painful indeed. Not when we have Africans at NASA, WALL STREET etc…
The level of ignorance on the prospects of aviation careers is still high in Nigeria. Is your institution doing anything on creation of awareness among young people?
I would want to differ in this opinion. Rather, the problem is enabling environment to provide training opportunities and absorb the trainees after graduating. I think the level of awareness is fairly greater that one would imagine because it’s a prestigious profession and with Internet now, a lot more people know aviation. I would rather blame the economy and lack of scholarship as the problem. Also for those who can afford the training, jobs are scarce despite the very many airplanes operating in our airspace, because, the candidate is choosing a particular job thereby denying himself suitable option, overpricing himself to would be employers, or unfriendly economy which encourages wet lease alternative for operator to acquire planes. There are so many Wet leased aircraft operating in Nigeria today that should absorb the serious job seekers, but this is not to be because the Nigerian unemployed pilot may not have the pilot license of the state of registry of that plane and have not got the validation to enable him fly it. The easy alternate is to bring the aircraft with its own crew from country of registry. The operator is not to blame here but the economy and the Civil Aviation Authority. I must also make haste to explain that the influx is not necessarily illegal. Because, the aircraft are not Nigerian registered and the pilots need to hold licenses of the state of registry to be legally qualified to fly them. Where we have an economy that only enjoys banking money from the operation of these airlines, without any aim or facility to finance the purchase of the planes, you cannot rule out therefore the influx of wet lease and foreign crew. Wet lease is the only alternative in Nigeria open to real business aviators unfortunately. If our banks could do very well to eliminate this problem by repositioning themselves as key partners in the industry, I bet you, we shall be amazed at the job creation and level of knowledge they will also acquire of this trade in a very short while.
Partnership is a strategy for modern business growth. What has been your approach to both local and foreign partnership?
Aviation training institutions such as ours is not a typical buy and sell business. Partnership is not synonymous with this business, rather collaboration. We all collaborate when need arises. We are discussing with the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), our elder brother for this collaboration. For instance, we are currently discussing a collaboration, which we at Mish stand to benefit from, being that we are much younger and smaller. That’s the kind of collaboration that we have in our sector of the industry.
What would you describe as major challenge of your institution at the moment and possible solutions?
We would have loved to move to an airstrip which would afford us more daily turnover of training hours without delay from other commercial traffic. We have applied and it is being considered by the airstrip owners, hopefully someday, we will get the approval to do so. If this happens, we can expand rapidly. If this does not happen, we shall still struggle to keep the school but remain limited in capacity. Operating at an international airport is very advantageous to our students but not to the school. They are training in a commercial environment (Controlled airspace), upon graduation, they are already conversant with what they would have had to learn on the job. So employing a candidate who graduated from Mish Aviation is a big plus to the employer as well as cost saving.
What is your advice to aviation authorities in West Africa on how to improve the sector?
Be more serious and understand that there is a difference between training institution and airline operation. Governments should exercise some tax-free regimes to encourage growth of new investors and also reduce tariff that lead to higher ticket cost. Aviation is an economic driver of modern times. As consumers of aviation tools, we need to zero tariff on all imports of aircraft and accessories, encourage investors reasonably to sustain their business so they partner Government in return in areas of training sponsorships and affordable air transportation. We need to start production industries as well with the aim of producing our own aircraft and spares in the future. This can be done collectively as ECOWAS or Africa Union. It’s quite possible and I am a very strong believer that we can deliver within the next 25 years if we start today. We have many raw materials and several of our citizens are in top manufacturing industries positions across the world today. We also know now that knowledge transfer is not a secret treasure as it used to be those days. We can copy blue prints and develop from there if we are serious.
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