MINISTER of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika has said that for the industry to be rejuvenated and thrive, it must do so on three pillars namely; establishing a private sector driven national carrier, establishment of a Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility, also privately driven and the establishment of an aircraft leaving company.Sirika made this declaration yesterday at the Protea Hotel Ikeja where he had a chat with aviation correspondents, re-echoing some of this administration’s plan to revamp the rapidly plummeting sector.
The Minister went further to expatiate on the template of these plans stating that government has no money to invest in the sector and cannot invest a kobo on the national carrier or others and so it is calling on investors to come in and do so in the enabling environment that government has created.
“The planned national carrier will be private sector driven and will go through all the processes an airline should go through before coming in, also the MRO will be private sector driven, also the aircraft leasing company that will come in along with the MRO will serve the national carrier.”
“Right now one of the major challenges of airlines is maintenance and they seek hard currency in a bid to carry that out, plus they have top ferry these aircraft at a huge cost and same aircraft will have to queue for a slot on a maintenance schedule. If we had an MRO, it will go a long way to make things easier for the industry.”
While responding to questions, Sirika also addressed the plight of the ex-workers of the now liquidated Nigeria Airways, he said the president was aware and is sourcing for funds to offset their backlog of gratuities, “They will soon smile by God’s grace, I have no doubt that this social democratic government will do something soon.”
On the issue of concessioning of the major airports, Minister of State declared that it was already a forgone conclusion and that government was bent on concessioning the airports, he however explained that the misconception that government was selling the airports or privatizing them was wrong.
According to him, the airports have dilapidated so bad that it would take a major investor to come in and turn it around stating again that the facilities were so poor and that government do not have funds to invest in them thus the plan to concession where the airports will be given out for a period with investment being put in it while government will earn from it until the period the concession elapses and then it is returned.
“We no longer have money to put in public property but we will not sell or privatize as social democrats all we can do is to concession them so as to grow them. And that we will.”
“You see government has no plans whatsoever to sell national assets but it was sheer misconception to see the unions on the street demonstrating what they thought was sales of the airport. The airports will be concessioned, the big four and then later six of the cargo designated airports and this will help us not just grow and expand the sector but put us in the right path to again be established as a hub.”
He went on to cite the Dubai and Doha airports which he said had Spars, malls and other super markets but lamented that in Nigeria airport terminals, what passengers see are cigarette and liquor shops, adding that the present government will not allow the terminals to remain like that.
“You see airports like Dubai, Doha people go there just to see the airport or shop, the magnificence of that airport is attractive on its own. People go there to use their amazing duty frees where you get spars, malls and the like but what do we have in our duty-free? Cigarettes and alcohol with concessioning we can change that and make our airports the cynosure of all eyes.”
“And concession will not only achieve aesthetics, right now our airports are in so sorry a state that they cannot handle aircraft like the Airbus A380 or the Boeing 787 dreamliner but if we get this right which we will, today we are doing 15million annually, in the next five years we will be doing 70 to 100million annually and you will see the impact once we do things right.”
The minister added that reports had shown that 40 per cent of passengers prefer to pass through airport terminals with excellent facilities, adding that duty-free in Dubai is about $1.2 billion, a situation not obtainable in Nigeria.
Earlier, the Chairman, LAAC, Mr Chuks Iwelunmo, listed some of the challenges facing aviation correspondents in carrying out their jobs at Lagos Airport since the group was evicted from the Press Centre at the Presidential Lounge of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos in 2012.
The Minister after listening instructed the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to provide a befitting accommodation for LAAC and that he would continue to partner with the group to make aviation great.
Recalled that the Aviation Correspondents under the aegis of LAAC was evicted under questionable circumstance by security agencies (SSS and Ministry of External Affairs) under the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in 2012.
Aviation journalists’ problem with the authority then started when they reported the invasion of Lagos Airport by armed robbers in 2012 and also queried the inability of the Close Circuit Television (CCTV) installed with billions of Naira at the airport to pick the footage of the bandits.
This led to labeling the group as ‘security risk’ and subsequently evicted LAAC from the Press Centre.