The Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah has assured Nigerians that major changes would be seen in all airports and in the aviation sector come 2014. Top of the list of changes promised are a new era of ‘healthier airlines’ and better service delivery to the satisfaction of travellers.
“Some people would like you to believe it’s cosmetics. There’s nothing cosmetic about it. There’s nothing cosmetic about safety and security and so essentially what we did was to increase the current facilities we have by a 150 percent. For Lagos, we actually did 200 percent increase in the facility,” she said.
The minister who was a guest on Sunrise Saturday recounted some of the achievements made in the sector which critics have said are ‘cosmetic.’
The aviation sector in Nigeria has in the recent past been regarded as below standard and according to Oduah, “the death of Aviation sector started about 30 years ago. Airports which had been established for social value lacked the proper plan for sustainability hence they ‘died’ in no time.
“I believe Aviation came on board as a social platform and so everything social often is not sustained because the sustainability of the infrastructures which were not put in place,” she said.
“As much as aviation has a social content, aviation is about economics and commerce but evolved and enveloped around safety and security. Over the years we missed that point and when we missed it, the sustainability of those noble ideas, we lost it.”
Things have now changed as “the sector is now alive (literally); the sector has now come to life, because prior to this time what you had was a very dead sector, a sector where everything was obsolete (literally).”
The sector which now boasts of over 14.5 million passengers had been on the budget of the Federal Government and yet it decayed. Speaking on the programme, Oduah attributed this to the concentration on ‘welfare,’ “so the infrastructure maintenance upgrade were relegated to the background.”
She also talked about the “unprecedented” growth the sector has experienced recently and added that “no other country has that sort of growth.”
For the past two years we have been going on double digits, two years ago we were at 14.5 million, now we are approaching 20 million passengers.
“The growth can only be sustained and increased upon in commensurate increase and maintenance of those facilities, otherwise they would slip away. Facility capacity must be increased”
Furthermore, she disclosed that some of the works being done are yet to be visible as they are mostly in the back-end. Others are not ready and so may not be seen, for example wing E and D of the international airport in Lagos.
Increase In Efficiency
The Minister said that in due course, passengers should expect that “processing time (at the airport) is reduced to less than 15 minutes.
“You don’t have to stay on those long queues; you don’t have to be harassed as you go because the space has increased.
Service delivery will also be improved upon because “we went on massive training to ensure that improved infrastructure will be adequately manned by workers.”
As time goes on, you are going to see different facilities increased enough to be able to accommodate the increase in passengers that we are envisaging.
“We envisage in the next 12 months we should be able to do 40 million” as studies show that almost 65% of traveling adults and young adults in Nigeria use air transportation. “It’s the preferred mode of transportation.”
Commenting on complaints that air transportation is costly in Nigeria compared to other parts of the world, Stella Oduah said “I don’t think so.” The reason being that “air transportation is the most regulated sector in the world and so it’s not policy permissible for an airline to unilaterally decide the cost”
“You need to have the regulators’ approval and the regulator has to work in conformity with ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) global standards.
“We fought the British Airways because the prices they were charging domestically were far much in excess to what they were charging in Ghana and in neighbouring countries and so we fought them.”
“We are still in court with them,” she disclosed.
Responding to claims that people have been buying private jets as a means of escaping the poor services rendered at the airports, she said “private jet is a lifestyle. Several things lead to one deciding to have that sort of lifestyle. Time saving could be one of them but often times, it’s not the main reason for that and that is why it’s a lifestyle.”
“For us it is business. It’s tagged as general aviation,” she said.
She went further to hint that the increase in the purchase of private jets is an indication of economic growth. “The growth of general aviation often is a reflection of economic growth in the nation. It means you have the emergence of wealthy men and women that have developed different lifestyles.”
On the lack of efficiency of the local airlines, she said a diagnostic report showed that “we have very high deficiency in terms of operations with the domestic airways, poor governance. We have majorly badly structured domestic airlines that work on the model of not having to pay.”
However, “a reformed, a refined and a very well-articulated, updated civil aviation policy which she said will be sent to the National Assembly in January for approval, will give the agency the leverage it needs to ensure that changes are made.
She outlined some other developments and changes which are in the pipes, including much ‘healthier’ airlines, which are much responsive and policy abiding, the introduction of Passengers Bill of Rights which gives the NCAA the authority to ensure that passenger’s rights are protected.
“The bill is at the advocacy stage which also sees that carriers understand the responsibility of their non-conformity to the bill of rights,” she said.