The out-going Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka has revealed why he could not midwife a national carrier for Nigeria before the expiration of his tenure, just as he identified and explained some of the problems bedeviling the Aviation ministry and its parastatals. Chidoka, while presenting his aviation score card to stakeholders in Lagos, said that none of the domestic airlines currently operating domestic flights in the country can become a national carrier because they are privately owned, adding that a national carrier must have a diverse ownership structure .
The minister said attempts to make Aero Contractors a national carrier in 2011 failed because the minority shareholders refused to agree to restructure the ownership. He added that Aero was chosen because of its indebtedness to the Federal Government through AMCON, its safety records, the size of its fleet, operational coverage and availability of electronic ticketing.
He also said because the Aero Contractors experiment failed, the ministry’s panel set up to look at the viability of a national carrier advised that Nigeria should explore the multiple carrier option instead of the single national carrier option.
Chidoka revealed that for any airline to transform into a national carrier “it must have International Air Transport Association (IATA) and International Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification, it must have evidence of technical partnership and must meet minimum fleet size, equipment and diverse ownership.”
According to him, “for you to be a national carrier, the ownership structure should be diversified. The airline should not be a family business operated by one man and his children. Private investors should have equity in the business, the books must be open for scrutiny and auditing and there must be transparent financial dealings and agreeing to restructure the ownership through the sale of shares on a 60/40 basis.
“The airline must have a strong and reliable technical partnership that will constantly guide the airline on the path of safety and profitability. This must be accompanied by International Air Transport Association (IATA) International Operational Safety Audit(IOSA) certification which is done periodically. The airline must have the right fleet size in order not to put unnecessary pressure on few air planes which will lead to quick wear and tear.”
The minister also explained why the Ministry of Aviation has not been very effective in discharging its function of overseeing the parastatals under the ministry. Chidoka said “The Ministry of Aviation has eleven departments. Two of the eleven departments are focused on the provision of technical Aviation services. Current staff strength in the ministry stands at 560. “
“32.96% of the staff serve in the two technical departments while the remaining are split amongst the non-technical departments .The staff pooling system of the federal civil service limits the ministry ability to build and maintain a group of technical experts to manage the affairs of the civil Aviation industry.” “The pooling system should be modified to accommodate the technical expertise required in certain areas. The ministry staff strength is skewed towards service areas as against technical aviation related areas.
The staffing needs to be re-adjusted to enable the ministry beef up the staff numbers in the technical aviation areas which is the organisation’s core focus”. The Aviation Ministry boss further disclosed that the problem with the ministry is not the removal of the minister but the frequent posting and transfer of the permanent secretary. This, he said, had created room for politicians and contractors to take over the ministry.
On the survival of airlines, the Aviation Minister said that he would not subscribe to a situation where airlines are allowed to die before efforts are made to rescue them, adding that the regulator should be proactive to intervene in any airline the moment it notice any sign of problem. “There is the need to set up Aviation corporate governance and enterprise Risk framework to reduce the probability of aviation corporation failure due to moral hazard.” Chidoka said.
The Minister further said that he had appealed to Pension Commission (PenCom) to set aside 3 per cent of pension fund to invest in aviation, adding that when this is done it would help to grow Nigerian airlines. Chidoka harped on the need to give Nigerians seeking participation in the aviation industry first right of refusal. Specifically, he said Nigerians should be allowed to operate In- flight catering services.
He said he did not give approval and would advice incoming minister not to give approval to any foreign company seeking approval to operate in the country, adding that when Nigeria In-flight catering company; Airline Services Limited(ASL) tried to operate in Britain ,it was frustrated . He explained that the British authority asked ASL to seek the cooperation of customers first before coming to them, while the customers asked ASL to get approval from the British airport authority.