The air transport sector plays a crucial part in the world economic activities and has been identified as the fastest growing sector of the global economy. In like vein, a safe system of operation is an essential requirement in the aviation industry, because airlines' safety records facilitate passengers' confidence in their operations, thereby boosting the airlines' profitability.
Whatever the case may be, safety is paramount to the aviation industry and this why good maintenance of aircraft is required to make it airworthy for safe flight operations. However, aircraft maintenance is not just carried out by engineers at any workshop, and the parts are not something available as auto spare parts that could be found in market closed by.
It has been discovered that most the airlines operating in Nigeria always face problems when it comes to carrying out major checks on their aircraft as the country lacks a standard hanger for these checks much less overhaul. The Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Giovanni Bisignani, disclosed last week that in 2007, African airlines recorded losses amounting to US$400 million compared to $5.6 billion profit made by airlines globally.
The IATA chief also foresees a tougher situation in 2008. While world aviation industry profit are expected to drop by US$4.5 billion this year, the African region, Bisignani said, will witness immense losses. He noted an improvement in air safety indicated by the reduced rate of accident in Africa, where, for every 244million flights, one accident was recorded, compared to one accident per 100.000 flights in the past. In comparison, the world record stands at one accident per 1.3 milliom flights.
In a lecture recently organised by Finum Aviation and the Licensed Aircraft Engineers in Lagos, an aviation engineer, Godwin Jibodu, attributed flaws in the Nigerian aviation sector to lack of maintenance culture and the training of professional engineers.
He explained that acquiring aircraft is not as relevant to the industry as good maintenance of the existing ones, adding that a well maintained ageing aircraft is as good as a poorly maintained new aircraft. Jibodu noted further that the chief executive officers of airlines focus more attention on maximising profit with little interest on maintenance engineers who are in charge of the safety of their operations.
He expressed concern on how aircraft could efficiently and economically maintained in Nigeria when minor and overhaul activities are carried out abroad. He lamented that the spare parts are bought in foreign currencies and that it takes about 21days to source and receive them from foreign vendors.
He also said that unless the country puts up a national hanger as was done in the past, operators will continue to face maintenance problems. He added that in the next three years, aviation in Nigeria will totally collapse if nothing is done to train more engineers.
The aviation engineer said that most of his colleagues are now above 55years old and if nothing is done, there will be a serious crises in the industry.
"In the 1960s, aircraft maintenance exhibited a lot of promise. We had fleets of airplanes which we were able to maintain with resources available in-house. F27, our biggest airplane at the time, was maintained locally up to overhaul level .There were spare parts when needed to effect maintenance/repairs, there were enough tools/jigs for the use of the maintenance staff", he said.
Speaking further, he said the problem began when the airlines purchased larger machines for flying in the name of modernisation without adequate corresponding workshops for maintenance.
"Therefore, the hanger meant for F27s became inadequate for the maintenance and repairs of new generation airplanes", he said.
Since that time, he said, maintenance and aircraft repairs in Nigeria have been carried out abroad, a development which placed too much burden on operators because activities done abroad are paid for in foreign currencies.
FMI: All Africa