Engineer Lookman Animashaun is a renowned aircraft engineer who carved a niche for himself at the defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways. He is currently the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Med-View Airline. In this interview with SHOLA ADEKOLA, he speaks on the myriad of challenges confronting the aviation sector in Nigeria.
What are the major problems confronting Nigerian airlines?
There is no problem with Nigerian airline operators. The only problem we have with the airlines is just the policy within the industry. That’s the only problem we have. How much of your ticket sales go into your pocket as profit? 30 to 40 per cent of ticket sales go for taxes. So, how do you want them to make profit and the ticket you are selling is limited because of the cash crunch in the country, you cannot just increase your ticket fares as this will put lots of passengers into problems.
If the multiple taxation charges and high cost of fuel are not addressed, the nation’s airlines will continue go to under. As of today, fuel is going for N240 to N250 in Lagos and this is apart from other airports like Kaduna and others where it is between N255 and N265 per litre. How much are we selling one hour ticket to passengers? I learnt some airlines are selling tickets at N18,000 to Abuja. I don’t know how they want to break-even.
Another problem crippling the domestic airlines now is the scarcity of foreign exchange. This industry is dollar-based. An ordinary bolt or screw is bought in dollars and the government rate through the bank is not easily accessible and airline is run on minute by minute basis. If anything happens to any of the aircraft now, you have to fix it immediately. Now, you apply for foreign exchange in the bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) says it has allocated a certain amount of money for you, but they will collect the money from you and lock up and you can’t access that foreign exchange until two or three months later. Will the industry wait for you?
We can’t sustain the industry the way it is going; it’s a very serious issue. The government just has to sit down with the operators and stakeholders to address most of these issues. But, it’s as if we are playing with it. Let government inject money into Arik and Aero today, if they don’t address most of these issues I raised, they will go back to square one.
How do you see the airlines’ operating environment in Nigeria?
The operating environment in Nigeria is very precarious now that we have seen another airline going under. To me, no airline that knows its worth, that knows what is happening in the industry, that knows the operating environment will jubilate over what happened to Arik Air.
First, if the government of today does not improve the operating environment in such areas like double taxation, high cost of fuel, charges paid to aviation agencies like the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerians Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the same thing would happen to other airlines in the industry.
The government should look at double taxation, infrastructure within the airport. What do I mean by this? Go to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos today, the conveyor belts are not working, constant power failure and some other things that are affecting the operational costs along the line.
Go to other airports, apart from Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and Abuja, the airlines can’t operate night operations into any of our airports in the country. We have airports that do not have runway lights, Instrument Landing System (ILS) and several others.
The Federal Government needs to declare state of emergency in the industry so that they can address the perennial period we have been having over the years. We keep on having promises and nothing is coming out. Now that the government has decided to focus on Abuja Airport, they should also take the bull by the horn to sanitise the entire industry.
With the suspension of flight operations by Arik to London, the mantle has now fallen on Med-View to airlift Nigerians to the route, being the only Nigerian carrier on that route for now, what strategies have Med-View put in place to ensure that it bridged the gap?
We didn’t envisage that Arik Air would suspend operations all of a sudden, if not, we would have planned ahead, but like I said, whatever capacity that we have now, we would sustain it to help Nigerians to still feel comfortable to come in and move out. We will sustain our operations.
More so, like I mentioned earlier, even the usual operations in and outside Nigeria now, any airline that is not serious, any airline that is not capable of measuring up to a certain level, will certainly fall by the wayside. Like I said, as far as Med-view is concerned, we are not in competition with anybody, what we are looking at is service and if any passenger or customer feels that our service is good, definitely, they will patronise us and that is our watchword – on-time departure and good service to our customers.
All the same, we would maintain our capacity to see how it will go, but definitely, it’s going to be difficult because we didn’t envisage the present situation will come up.
Med-View was recently listed on the stock exchange, what has been the response of investors to your shares?
We were listed on the 31st January, 2017 and all indications show that we are getting there. The price of the stock on a daily basis shows that we are improving and more people are showing interest especially the international community and a lot of people and organisations are showing interest very shortly, the result of our going to the stock exchange will show.