Lagos — That majority of the pilots operating in Nigeria today are foreigners is no longer news. The issue that is giving aviation stakeholders, pilots and the Federal Government sleepless night is how to curtail the influx of foreign pilots into country.
The incursion by these foreign pilots has got to the stage that even Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) have started complaining about the unhealthy trend.
The reason for their agitation is simple. While the influx of foreign pilots into the country is having a negative effect on the economy, the development also constitute a huge financial burden to the airlines.
Today, while close to 600 Nigerian pilots are roaming the streets searching for jobs; foreign pilots are coming into the country in droves and securing jobs with ease.
The influx made the National Assembly through the Senate President, David Mark to say that the lawmakers would consider a local content regulation for the nation's aviation industry to compel airlines both local and foreign to employ certain number of Nigerian pilots.
This was during the unveiling of 127 pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers trained by the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta.
The Senate President, who was represented by Senate Deputy Leader, Abdul Ningi, said the regulation would be passed into law in due course.
Employing foreign pilots takes a huge chunk of airline's finance compared to securing the services of their Nigerian counterparts. For example, the airlines employing foreign pilots are expected to accommodate them in five star hotels. Often times, they spend more time in their home country compared to the time they spend working for the airline that employed them. Besides, they do not contribute to the economy of Nigeria instead they repatriate hard currency to their various home countries. The amount of capital flight involved in the process of engaging foreign pilots is enormous. But despite that, some airlines still run after them because they do not want to spend money to train Nigerian pilots.
The proposed initiative by the National Assembly has elicited further reactions on how best to resolve the issue. The Chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) and the grand patron of Nigerian Professional Pilots (NPP), Capt. Nogie Meggison, who confirmed the influx of foreign pilots into Nigeria, called on the Federal Government to put in a place a proactive policy that will address the projected 500 Nigerian licensed pilots that are unemployed.
He said the number of unemployed pilots would have increased significantly from the current 300 when the over 100 student pilots' sent to Jordan by the Kano State government graduated later this year.
Meggison, who is not comfortable with the development, said that unless something is done urgently, such development constitutes a disincentive to the growth and development of the Nigerian aviation industry.
He said well over 400 Nigeria licensed aircraft engineers are also out of job, appealing to the Federal Government to put in place an employment policy that would ensure these aviation professionals are engaged by both indigenous and foreign carriers operating into the country.
The AON chairman said that even though some domestic carriers have done well by engaging some of the pilots, there is still room for improvement.
He posited that an enabling policy that would check the influx of foreign pilots and engineers by foreign register through the number of flying hours would go a long way to assist Nigerian licensed pilots.
Meggison said there are over 1,000 foreign pilots engaged by both local and foreign registered airplane flying in Nigeria and that apart from that, there are over 500 foreign aircraft engineers employed in the country.
According to him, "The government should compel foreign carriers to set up a line station for aircraft maintenance in the country and employ local engineers to assist in turning around line maintenance and log time this will go a long way to assist the growth of the sector. They should look into other avenues also, if policies are not put in place the challenge of unemployment of pilots and engineers may not be resolved as soon as possible."
He continued, "It is shameful that qualified Nigerian licensed youth pilots and engineers are now driving 'kabu Kabu' to make ends meet. This is totally unacceptable. Over the years, the aviation industry has grown. About six years ago, the number of private jets has increased from 20 to 150. Even, commercial airplanes have grown from 20 to 100, but it has not reflected to the employment of our youths, who are qualified trained as pilots and engineers with commercial pilot license."
He said it was time the Federal Government implemented and enforce the expatriate quota policy in the aviation sector to create room for the employment of indigenous professionals, as being practised in most parts of the world.
Meggison cited Brazil, India, Cameroon, Russia and Egypt as some of the countries where policies exists that prescribes that on every airplane cockpit there must be a national passport holder inside.
"For any aircraft that is flying in such countries, whether local or foreign registered once the airplane has stayed in the country for more 30days cumulating in one year it must comply with cockpit laws," he said.
The JedAir boss said that apart from the implementing the policy, another way to create jobs for indigenous professionals in the aviation industry is the establishment of aircraft maintenance centres.
"Government needs a policy to create avenues for qualified youths to get employment in the aviation sector. About 2000 skilled professional jobs can be created in first year, while 5000 skill jobs could be created in the next three years." he said.
He pointed out that one of the ways of achieving this is by opening aircraft maintenance line station in Nigeria like most other countries, where aircraft engineers could be employed.
In his words, "Our neighbour Senegal gave a six months' notice that expires July 15th as deadline for all foreign carriers to joint venture locals or open lines station in Dakar or face suspension and the carriers have all complied. We need a policy to drive employment of both indigenous pilots and aircraft engineers."
He said that it is the practice in other countries of the world and that government creates a conducive policy to drive employment of key aviation professionals, adding that in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt, their governments have perfected plans on how to use their aviation sector to create jobs for their youth.
The AON chairman said this explains why these countries now export skilled aviation professionals including pilots, aircraft engineers, cabin crew, quality assurance mangers and technicians to other parts of the world and that there is no reason Nigeria with an estimated population of 170 million people should not export skilled aviator to other parts of year world.
He maintained that government needs to address this problem, adding that even, the last batch of 65 aircraft engineers that graduated from the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) since last year 2013, not even one is yet to get job.
Meggison added that on the other hand, there are over 500 foreign aircraft engineers in Nigeria and that most of the foreign carriers are putting flying spanners; engineers on board in the business class to fly to Nigeria instead of setting up a line station.
According to him, "There is need for government policies to make them to open line maintenance stations to provide hands on job training for Nigerians youths. If you go on board any Emirates, Etihad, Saudi Air, Kuwait or Qatar Airways flight, there is always other Africa nationals from other countries, who are aviation professionals exported to other countries. Whereas Nigerian with her vast educated youth population is nowhere to be found on board any of the flight".
"60 years after our first commercial flight by BOAC, It's time we create of jobs for our youths in the aviation sector and be a major aviation force and contributor of skilled aviator to the world, where one in every African aviator is a Nigerian," he added.
On his part, an aviation analysts, Olumide Ohunayo, who commended the National Assembly for the proposed local content bill on aviation to compel airlines employ Nigerian pilots, however, berated the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for not implementing the Civil Aviation Act.
He argued that if NCAA cannot monitor and implement the Civil Aviation Act, there is no way the bill proposed by the National Assembly or any decision reached by the National Conference can change its mentality.
"In consonance with the proposed National Assembly bill, the conferees are asking for an increase in Nigerian participation in operation and services. This call would be unnecessary if NCAA had lived up to its responsibility by implementing the Civil Aviation Act to the letter. If the NCAA cannot monitor and implement now, how will a bill or the Confab decision change that mentality? he asked.
He suggested that the Nigerian aviation content bill should not be limited to personnel alone, but other operational services with the enshrined principle of reciprocity and investment.
Commenting on the local content bill for aviation mooted by the National Assembly to address the influx of Nigerian pilots and engineers, the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) said that it fully support the idea by the legislators, describing it as a right step in the right direction.
According to a statement signed by the Public Relations Officer, Bunmi Gindeh, NAAPE is happy because when enacted, it would make it compulsory for both local and international airlines to employ Nigerian pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers.
According to him, "The is overjoyed with the statement of intention of the President of the Senate, Federal Republic of Nigeria with regard to an impending Aviation Local Content Act. We are particularly happy that the intended Act will make it mandatory for Local and Foreign Airlines to engage Nigerian Pilots and Aircraft Maintenance Engineers. We consider this statement to be a monumental bright spot in the life of this assembly which will be greatly celebrated when actualised."
Accordingly, NAAPE, he said supports the National Assembly towards the realisation of this laudable project, as well as an unshakeable commitment to seeing it through, adding that NASS can count on the co-operation and partnership of NAAPE in all material respect to the project, particularly in the aspect of technical information and materials.
The body appealed to the Federal government to endeavour to use the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) Zaria, which has standard training facilities and manpower for training of pilots and Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (AMEs).
Speaking on the issue, the National President of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN), Benjamin Okewu, said that there are laws to checkmate the influx of foreign pilots into Nigerian aviation but that the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) in connivance with the Human Resource Manager of these airlines are flouting the rules.
Okewu added that apart from NASS initiating a local content bill for aviation industry, he alleged that what happened is that when these pilots are entering Nigeria, what they fill in their forms would be different from what the jobs they are doing for the airline.
He said that this is done in connivance with airlines employing these foreign pilots.