The other day I came across this headline over the web: FG BANS CHARTER AND COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS FROM KADUNA TO ABUJA. Even before I read through it, my heart sank and I felt myself getting nauseous. We as Nigerians fool around too much and let our leaders take our collective welfare for granted.
Allow me to paint you a scenario. Lets say the Niger Bridge linking Asaba to the North with Onitsha to the South of the bridge is temporarily shut down for maintenance, it will obviously be very inconveniencing to a large number of Nigerian seafarers. Boat and canoe operators however, will expectedly utilize that temporary setback to boost their trade by ferrying passengers across the Niger River at a fare, benefitting from the artificial boom and alleviating a major transportation challenge for commuters. I’m sure you see where I’m heading.
Well to be fair to the National Security adviser; Babagana Mungano cited Security reasons for his departments division on behalf of the Federal Government to literally pull an easy meal out of Nigerian Air transport operators gullets. In his statement, the wise man reminded our eager operators that the airspace over Abuja is a controlled airspace in these exact words and I quote: Please be reminded that the airspace over the federal Capital Territory is controlled and only security flights or those with the requisite security clearance from the presidency are granted overhead clearance for obvious security reasons Mr. NSA boomed in his characteristic belligerently loud voice. No problem.
Now to be fair to the average Nigerian entrepreneur, that is all a big fat load of donkey dung!
Welcome to Air-law 101:
A Controlled Airspace is a generic term that covers the different classes of airspace (Classes A, B, C, D and E airspace) within which air traffic control service is provided to IFR and VFR flights in accordance with the airspace classification. A controlled airspace is of defined dimensions and usually imposes higher weather minimums than are applicable in uncontrolled airspace (Classes F and G) often referred to as the remainder of FIR.
What the above means is that while aircraft can be operated within all classes of air spaces from A to G, ATC clearance is required to operate in the controlled classes A to E airspace. ATC here, being an acronym for Air Traffic Controller and not the office of the presidency.
A caveat exists here however in the form of a prohibited airspace situated within the Abuja Controlled airspace. This restricted airspace is called DNP4 and has raised issues in the past, particularly around January 2002 when NAMA forced operators to re-plot their established access routes in and out of the contested Abuja airspace in order to avoid infringement on the protected area overlying the Aso presidential villa.
I know the technical details may seem boring so far, so lets please proceed to establish their precedent shall we?
Why is this government always in such a hurry to take away opportunities from well-meaning entrepreneurs to generate revenue? As it stands, there is a sub-sector called General Aviation (G.A) which most of the world has tapped into for ages and are making a killing from every available landing space without breaking a sweat, and Nigeria has been observing from the by-lines for as many years now without access to a single crumb of that very juicy revenue cake.
GA majorly employs the use of small aircraft to shuttle commuters; mostly tourists, explorers, businessmen, politicians, vacationers, and thrill seekers over short distances and the ability of a country to sustain a certain level of safety and industry standards in this Sub-industry plays a larger role in that country’s acceptance as a major player in global aviation than you get from scheduled airline operations like we have in such big names like Arik and Peace et al.
We as a country are currently listed as major contributors because of all the money we pumped into acquiring spanking new aircraft and acquisition of time-relative monumental aviation infrastructure at the peak of our oil boom, but the money from those deep pockets is either running out as a result of poor financial discipline or all being spirited away by our long spate of irresponsible leadership and while other countries are earning their place on that list through innovation and measurable inclusive growth, something has to give and your guess is as good as mine as to which country will not be able to remain on that list after taking a thorough battering from an economic recession. Any amateur economist knows that every increase conforms with a pyramid which thins out as one approaches its apex, so when other countries make this coveted list of major contributors to international aviation development, others nations which can’t prove their mettle will have to give way.
So the closure of the Abuja airport finally gives Nigeria an opportunity to showcase this our much touted entrepreneurial genius and our air operators are already busy shifting the right gears into their right places, positioning their aircraft and procedures for an unprecedented overhaul of the paradigms which will make or break our aviation industry, preparing to offer services never before experienced in Nigeria with an immense potential to force us headlong into the future by salvaging an embarrassing situation through very impressive damage control, then BOOM!!!! This NSA smarty pants decides NO! Were better off as Neanderthals, sitting comfortably in the dark places of our comfort zones and avoiding any move into the beckoning bright lights of a better tomorrow.
I happen to be one of the many commercial pilots Nigeria considers unemployable despite acing our abominably costly flight training and actually working abroad in my case; why am I unemployable you might ask? Well, not enough experience. Nigerian airlines simply put foreigners in our place. They are hired to fly here and our airlines defend their rights to work within our borders because they have the requisite experience I and my Nigerian colleagues are lacking. “How did they get the requisite experience? A smart reader might ask, well; they kicked off their career through GA flights in their own countries, gained the experience they require to bear the title of aviation professionals, and came over by the aisle-loads because Nigerians are plagued with an incredibly cure resistant strain of brain virus which is destined to make us observe the rest of the world advance from the safe fringes of our safe spaces. What a country! And who can blame the foreigners? Everybody wants a better life, so if Nigerian airlines are dishing out indigenous jobs they’d be fool-hardy not to queue up and snatch them all up.
Dont get me wrong, certain airlines still hire Nigerian pilots with straight from flight school, but under certain of the conditions listed below.
4. Sniveling relentlessly
5. Self-funded Training
*If you think #5 above is a viable option, think again. Nigerian airline applicants are being required to fund the training they need to meet the high employment requirements in their own country, and the cost of this training runs to the tune of Forty-Five Thousand Dollars in most cases. I repeat: ($45,000). On successful completion of the above aircraft type rating trainings, the candidates still do not actually satisfy the flight time requirement which the job demands, and while certain airlines are known to renege on their offer to the unfortunate applicants who have doled out this amount of money after the expenses already incurred from basic flight training, others who make good their commitment often do so on the condition that the new employee meets the flight time requirement within the company before they are entitled to start receiving remunerations. Either way, it is a rather hopeless situation for the average pilot who stills retains any iota of decency, and a matter I certainly intend to deal more thoroughly with in the near future.
So now lets tie up the loose ends and attempt to make sense of the deplorable spate of events cropping up in our aviation industry.
With the recent closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe international airport in Abuja, enabling domestic charter operations between Kaduna and Abuja international airports would have served as a demonstration of Nigeria’s commitment to International travelers and operators of our governments concern for their safety, comfort and ease of quality performance delivery, all services people and companies are willing to dole out a little bit extra cash for. It would have also served as the first visible mark of the country’s initiation into the booming GA sub-sector, created several jobs, and kicked off a chain reaction that would enable Nigerian pilots, and aviation services personnel acquire the much sort after flight time requirements and work experience that could effectively end our embarrassing inability to provide employment in the industry.
The list of benefits is quite frankly almost inexhaustible and a typical definition of a win-win scenario, but like I said at the beginning; We as Nigerians fool around too much and let our leaders take our collective welfare for granted. Apparently Mr. Babagana Mungano would rather hold our collective development to ransom with an alternate fact, just so can achieve his warm fuzzies in the knowledge that his boss remains snug as a bug in a rug, all tucked in and comfy in Aso rock.
I had to cease this unfortunate opportunity and attempt to make it clear to all Nigerians, particularly our aviation professionals that the solutions to our problems aren’t too far-fetched. You cannot expect a muzzled horse to eat, and as such we cannot expect our country to grow amid such superfluous constraints. Please anyone who is close enough to our leaders to whisper these subtle truths into their ears should let them realize that while they may or may not be working behind the scenes to resuscitate our ailing nations fortunes; they should please stop committing such obvious decapitations of our genuinely laudable individual efforts to move the country forward through our own innovation and adaptation. Personally, this government strikes me as trying to micro-manage Two Hundred Million people. Talk about a recipe for disaster!
Please feel free to leave your comments, suggestions, contradictions and outright rants in the comments section below, but remember to keep it all as civil as your self-restraint can allow.