2017 was a year filled with highs and lows for the entire aviation industry but one thing you cannot take out of that year like the previous three years before is the fact that it was indeed accident free and once again the Nigerian airspace was adjudged safe.
Some of the major issues in the industry trickled down from the wake of 2016 one of which was the announcement that the country ascended to Level 3 State Safety Programme (SSP) Implementation Process.
Another major story in 2017 was the replacement of Chief Executives in various Aviation parastatals which took place January 9, with Capt. Fola Akinkuotu appointed as Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and Mr Akin Olateru as the Commissioner for the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB).
Also appointed were Prof. Sani Mashi, Director-General, Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMet) and Capt. Abdulsalam Mohammed, Rector, Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria.
In February 2017, the Federal Government, through the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON), took over domestic airline, Arik Air, due to its huge debt profile, estimated to be over N300 billion.
The asset managers thereafter dissolved the former management of the airline and appointed Capt. Roy Ilegbodu as the new Managing Director with Mr Oluseye Opasanya (SAN), as the Receiver Manager.
Also in February days after AMCON took over Arik, Captain Ado Sanusi formerly of Arik Air was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Aero Contractors another AMCON owned airline.
Then there was the famous shutdown and rehabilitation of Abuja airport runway, as Federal Government shut the runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja from March 8,2017 for six weeks.
There were hues and cries and lots of protests from a lot of quarters but the Minster of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika put his job on the line when he insisted that the airport should be shut from March 8 for six weeks, to enable Julius Berger carry put a complete rehabilitation of the 3.6 kilometre runway.
The runway, was battered and near disrepair with airlines complaining over damaged equipment and this led to the closure of that airport for proper maintenance.
When the closure commenced indigenous and international flights were diverted to the Kaduna Airport which made many foreign carriers but Ethiopian Airlines, to stop their flight operations into Abuja.
The minister did not have to quit his job because the runway was rehabilitated in record time with a day to spare .
In March 16, 2017, the situation with Aero Contractors degenerated further as the airline had to declare 60 per cent of workforce, over 600 workers, redundant
In May, the Vice-President, professor Yemi Osinbajo signed and initiated Executive Order on Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria. The order is meant to improve facilitation and help increase foreign direct investment by providing visas on arrival for investors.
Part of the order’s directives, is the total disbanding of touting by official and unofficial persons at the airports and also mandated on-duty staff to be properly identified by their uniform and official cards.
It was not cheering news in April however, when the headquarters of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos was engulfed in fire.
The outbreak which started at about 8.20 a.m. affected some offices at the FAAN headquarters including Audit, Public Affairs and Commercial Departments. An investigative panel was constituted by the Managing Director of FAAN, Mr Saleh Dunoma, to find out the remote and immediate causes of the incident.
Then there was the Union’s insistence at various times in the year, that they were against and would continue to kick against the proposed concession of the Lagos and Abuja Airports which the Vice President had hinted at in one of the fora held.
These agitations reached a crescendo in October and finally November when unions kicked against the appointment of Transaction Advisers alleging a lack of due process and other infringements, giving government 15days to retrace its step or face a massive industrial action.
However, the minister of state, aviation has insisted that there is no going back with the planned concession and so the unions should get with the program and ensure their members do not get the raw end of the stick when this is concluded.
In September, the Federal Government approved N45 billion for the payment of gratuities and other retirement benefits to the former staff of defunct Nigeria Airways.
Minister of State, Senator Hadi Sirika disclosed this while briefing State House correspondents at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
He said following the approval by the President, the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, had been instructed to put the machinery in place for payment of the ex-staff of Nigeria Airways.
However, as we speak the former workers are yet to receive the payment more than three months after the approval and this had led to series of protests to ensure the release of the funds.
Then there came what could be described as the biggest story in 2017, the Certification of both Lagos and Abuja airports in just two months, making Nigeria the only country to certify two airports in one year.
The Murtala Muhammed International Airport and the NNAMDI Azikiwe International Airport were both certified in September and October, respectively, by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) after going through the rigorous audit process.
The Minister in 2016 had promised that the certification of the airports would be a reality in 2017 and eventually got the job done stating that plans were in the works to certify the remaining international airports and also to use the certification to attract better deals for the country as it seeks to concession its airports.
The DG of NCAA, Capt. Muhtar Usman, who presented the certificates to the MD of FAAN, said they were valid for a period of three years, urging that all hands must therefore be on deck to ensure that the certification is sustained.
He said the current drive towards the certification of Nigerian airports was very significant, not only as a requirement by ICAO and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations, but even more importantly as one of the critical safety targets of the Abuja ministerial declaration.
The country capped the year with the successful hosting of the ICAO World Aviation Forum (IWAF), with this hosting Nigeria became the first country in the world to host the IWAF, an event that was held either in Montreal or Quebec, Canada.
The conference which played host to states, aviation organisation’s, airlines and world bodies held from Nov. 20 to Nov. 22 in Abuja with the theme : “Financing the Development of Aviation Infrastructure.”
The IWAF was used as a pivotal to showcase Nigeria’s aviation potential to foreign investors, as part of efforts to surmount the sector’s infrastructural deficit estimated to be about $30 billion by IATA.
There were also some positives and negatives with the country’s airlines as some of them opened new routes while others diversified their businesses on the negative side however, cancellations and delays especially in December affected the airlines a great deal.
On the plus side, Med-view Airlines commenced its Lagos-Dubai operations as well as its Kaduna- Jeddah operations; the airline before it started Dubai services commenced operations into the French-speaking countries of West Africa: Abidjan, Conakry and Dakar and if not for the upheaval in Dakar as at December, AirPeace would have joined Med-view on the Francophone West Coast route.
However AirPeace was able to expand its domestic network reopening Abuja-Uyo as well as Lagos-Akure and is awaiting the delivery of the two Boeing 777 and six Embraer 145s it recently acquired to consolidate its domestic and regional flights and kick off its long haul flight operations.
The airline is looking at commencing the botched Freetown, Banjul and Dakar routes initially planned for December 15, 2017 and rescheduled because of unrest by ATCs in Dakar.
Also the airline plans to deploy its recently ordered Boeing 777 to operate Dubai, Guangzhou, London, Houston, Mumbai and Johannesburg.
Another plus for the airline’s was Aero Contractors, diversification and getting approval from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to carry out Checks on Boeing Classics up to C-Check.
The airline after meeting the criteria was given approval to carry out third-party maintenance on Boeing 737-300,400,500 and Dash- 8 aircraft, an achievement the airline hopes to get back on track with and re-absorb more of its redundant professionals.
In all it was a mixed year in 2017, but that had not changed the trajectory for 2018 as the Ministry plans to vigorously pursue the 2nd Runway for the Abuja Airport so as to avoid shutting it down completely to traffic.
There is also the fact that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) would be looking to sustain its certification and start the process of certifying the Mallam Aminu Kano , International Airport, Kano as well as the Port a Harcourt International Airport and the Akanu Ibiam International Airport.
Also, the ex-workers of the now defunct Nigeria Airways that have labored under the sun and rain to ensure that they are paid will continue their struggle despite being told money was approved for them since September.
There is also the planned establishment of an aircraft leasing company, national carrier (privately owned and funded) as well as the the proposed establishment of a Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility by government to enable an aviation chain and a hub in Nigeria.
Plus, the Issue of the concession which has caused many a union in the industry to lock horns with the federal government, as they have expressed their resolve to continue kicking against it claiming there are other viable options.
The year 2018 looks to be exciting for the aviation industry so let’s buckle up and enjoy the ride .