Captain Ibrahim Mshelia is the Chief Executive Officer of West Link Airlines. In this interview, he speaks about factors responsible for the high mortality rate of Nigerian airlines and what led to the failure of the defunct Nigeria Airways.
There are divergent reasons for the collapse of Nigeria's defunct national carrier--Nigeria Airways. What in your own view is responsible for its fall?
I will want to talk on the structure of the airline before talking about the staff and management of the former national carrier. Nigeria Airways was not created for profitability the way it was run and the structure it had. The airline had an annual budget. How can the airline have an annual budget? The government pays for A,B,C and D checks and others. Because the airline had a budget, every government department then flew Nigeria Airways with warrant officers.
In the military for instance, from Colonel and above, you fly first class, and below, you get economy.
For government establishment, from directorship level, you have first class and the rest is economy. And that was how the airline was run. It wasn't meant for profit making. So, how do you survive?
Also, the presidency didn't have an aircraft designated to it. Whenever the presidency had a function, they will just pull out an aircraft immediately either for local or international operations. There was a time the scheduled flights of the airline will just be disrupted midway. That was how even the government contributed to the death of the airline.
Now, how did staff and management contribute to its death? It is corruption; everybody was helping himself with the airline. First, everyone was employed based on the quota system. You will begin to get it wrong when you apply the quota system in aviation.
Was the quota system part of the reasons?
The quota system is killing the Nigerian system up till now. I am not against the quota system in certain things so that we will have equal presentation, but there are some certain things that will require technical qualifications. Dexterity is a gift from God. Those who put the quota system in place looked at the advantages and disadvantages of it and we are supposed to manage and patch it. It had a good intention, but when we start to play politics with it, then, it will continue to work against us.
What do you think about the agitation for airline merger in Nigeria?
I think we are joking; it is not a culture like Nigeria that airlines will merge. We will never be able to merge because everybody comes with his own model and we will never agree on models. For instance, look at the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) today; we don't have a body as far as I am concerned because some people think their ideas should be superior to others. In a group, you don't think like that, you have to convince people to marry your idea.
If an airline is run professionally, first it must have the dream of the founding fathers. The issue about merger in Nigeria is that people want to have ownership and die with it without transferring it to expatriates that can handle it.
If the government is actually interested in developing aviation, it will be there in its policies. There will be deliberate policies to grow the industry and this General Aviation will be the solution to it. That is why for me, I advocate for complete autonomy of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) under the current administration. This will do a lot of good for the industry and some of these challenges will be checkmated.
There are reports that some private jet owners are hiring out their jets, how true is this?
I can tell you that it is true because as a certified operator, I know most of the passengers who are regular, but there was a time some of them complained to me that I charge more, but he had got it cheaper.
The fact is the government should be more worried because it is losing a lot of revenues. I pay the five per cent Ticket Sales Charge (TSC), even if I don't have the cash with me, I owe it and I must pay it and I can't jump it. But, those that are doing these sharp practices are not captured in the NCAA data. So, the NCAA cannot go after them.
Then, I think the Department of State Security (DSS) should have intervened because this was purely economic sabotage, for them to remain for this long, even when the former Director-General of NCAA suspended some of them.
That is why I felt that if the Director-General of the NCAA has full autonomy, then he would do his job without looking at the body language of the minister.
Some operators said they haven't gotten anything from the N4 billion aviation sector bailout, have you received yours?
West Link Airlines has not received any form of palliative from the government till date. I submitted everything required. I think for me as an individual not as West Link, they are just trying to punish those who stick to the law. If you are in this country you stick to the law, you're called a radical or a rebel. So, we have turned our culture to teach our children that doing bad things is good.