The year 2016 was very challenging for Nigeria as the country entered into an economic recession which affected almost all the sectors of its economy.
Aviation, which is an integral part of the economy, was also affected as the industry witnessed turbulence caused directly and indirectly by the recession.
Despite the challenges, the sector however achieved some positive feats which showed that it still remained on track to actualising its full potential.
Below is a review of some major issues and events which occurred in the sector in 2016:
The re-election of Nigeria’s Aliu as ICAO Council President
Nigerian-born Dr Benard Aliu was unanimously re-elected for a second three-year term as President of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on Nov. 21 in Montreal, Canada.
Aliu, in his acceptance speech, promised to work tirelessly to promote the importance of civil aviation to socio-economic development globally.
Nigeria Secures ICAO Council Seat
On Oct. 4, the 152 ICAO member states voted for Nigeria to secure a Council Seat in the Part II Category.
Nigeria secured the vote at the 39th Assembly of ICAO in Montreal, Canada and would be a member of the council for the next three years, before another election.
Arrest and prosecution of top NAMA officials
In making true President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to tackling corruption in the aviation sector, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Feb. 12 arrested the Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Mr Ibrahim Abdullahi, and other top officials of the agency.
They are currently standing trial for alleged procurement fraud before a Federal High Court in Lagos.
Restructuring of Aviation Agencies
Upon assumption of office, the Minister of State, Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, identified restructuring of the various agencies as a priority of the Federal Government.
On Oct. 12, the government sacked and demoted 22 directors and general managers of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
The restructuring was based on the recommendations of the Presidential Committee chaired by the Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita.
Sirika, at a recent meeting with stakeholders in the sector, said the restructuring would be extended to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and NAMA, which were also currently over-bloated.
Airport Concession and National Carrier
The Federal Government announced plans to establish a national carrier and also concession the Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt Airports, in order to increase their capacity and efficiency.
Despite opposition by aviation unions to the concession, the government has gone ahead to announce the transaction advisers that would be saddled with handling both projects.
Scarcity of Forex
Airlines operating in the country were severely affected by the precarious foreign exchange and general monetary policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
On Dec. 8, Lloyd’s of London, the world leading insurance market, threatened to blacklist Nigerian airlines over failure to pay their premiums.
The Chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria, Capt.Nogie Meggisson, however appealed to the government to urgently intervene in making foreign exchange available to its members.
Meggisson said the development might have far-reaching consequences for the aviation industry and the country.
He said the airlines claimed they had naira but could not pay premiums because of foreign exchange constraints.
Also, Capt. Chimara Imediegwu, Director of Flight Operations, FirstNation Airways, said the scarcity of forex affected the repairs and maintenance of aircraft.
He said: “The challenges of sourcing forex with constantly changing CBN policies and Rate of Exchange (ROE) leaves us sometimes in situations where aircraft parts cannot be obtained when ordered.
“This is due to banks inability to transfer funds based on bids and maintenance schedules programmed with external Maintenance and Repair Organisations providers.”
Scarcity of Aviation Fuel
Almost throughout the year, domestic airlines grappled with scarcity of Jet A1, popularly called aviation fuel.
The situation caused frequent flight delays and cancellations by airlines leaving travellers stranded and frustrated as they could not keep up with their various appointments.
The Consumer Protection Department of the NCAA said Nigeria’s eight domestic airlines operated a total number of 43,196 flights between January and September 2016.
It said the airlines however recorded 24,075 cases of delayed flights, while 854 flights were cancelled.
Mr Ikechi Uko,a travel and tourism expert, said the delays and cancellations was affecting the brand integrity of the airlines and the Nigerian aviation industry at large.
Uko urged the government to find a lasting solution to the issue as some airlines were now buying fuel from neighbouring countries.
Worried by the development, Sen.Bala Na’Allah, who led the Senate Committee on Aviation on a visit to the Lagos airport recently, threatened to expose the cabal behind the scarcity.
He said the oil marketers were taking advantage of the situation in the country to make huge profits, stressing that they must be stopped.
Reduction of capacity and exit of airlines
In 2016, Iberia and United Airlines halted their operations in Nigeria, citing the prevailing economic situation.
Emirates Airlines and Kenyan Airways suspended their flights to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja for similar reasons.
On the domestic route, Aero Contractors also stopped operations following huge indebtedness to the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON).
The issue of baggage delay led the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to impose a N6 million fine on Arik Air Limited for contravening the provisions of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig.CARs).
The NCAA also ordered the airline to pay its passengers, whose baggage were delayed on the London to Lagos route between Dec. 2 and Dec. 4, $150 each as compensation.
Medview Airline also had the same problem with its passengers on the London-Lagos route on Dec. 24 and apologised to them for the delay in the arrival of their baggage. (NANFEATURES)
**If used, please credit the writer, as well as the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)