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The Nigerian aviation sector may witness weak growth as indigenous airlines spend substantial portion of their resources on expatriate pilots and engineers. This is more so because apart from devoting huge resources on expatriates, who represent a large percentage of their technical workforce, there is no programme to train Nigerians that will take over from them.
Presently expatriates pilots and engineers earn three times what their local counterparts earn and they are given more holidays and better welfare packages, which eat into the coffers of the airlines, known to make marginal profits at the best of times.
Ironically, recent developments have exposed the fact that many of these expatriates do not have the requisite experience they claim to have and many of them come to Nigeria to learn on the job, as highly skilled personnel rarely leave their country of origin to work in third world countries like Nigeria.
President of the National Association of Aircraft Pilot and Engineers (NAAPE), Isaac Balami, said Nigeria would build technical capacity if there is planned programme towards training of indigenous manpower by putting a Nigerian besides every expatriate that has come to work in Nigeria and also limited the period every expatriate would stay in the country as it is done in other parts of the world.
“This policy will help build technical capacity which is also key. It is also cheaper when we have local Nigerians doing these jobs competently because it will eliminate capital flight, where we currently pay a foreigner €10,000 to €15,000 per month; he works only six weeks on and another six weeks off, whether he is on or off, you are paying him full pay and whenever he is in the country, you lodge him in Sheraton, you pay his flight tickets every six weeks. Some of them come from Canada and the Philippines, imagine a ticket of over a million naira every six weeks for someone. These are the things killing the airlines.”
Balami also noted that the more qualified personnel do not leave their countries to come and work in Nigeria or elsewhere because such persons are highly valued and would be given every incentive to stay in the countries of origin, adding that Nigerians might be more qualified than many of these expatriates that come to work in the country.
“You and I know that if you are the best aircraft engineer in Europe and America, they will never allow you to come here. Africa has been a training ground for some of these expatriate from records I have at my disposal. Nigeria is the only country whereby a foreigner is sent here who knows nothing and they use our aircraft as a training piece of machine and when they become perfect on that aircraft after five years they return to Europe and work there. Out of 30 expatriate in this country I can beat my chest and tell you that we have only about two who are real expert in this industry; the rest we teach them the job here,” Balami lamented.
But he said that some companies like Bristow Helicopters, Arik and some state governments have intensified training of pilots and engineers and in the foreseeable future the country may break the dominance of expatriates in the aviation sector.
“The vacuum was created when Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) was liquidated; when the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology, Zaria went down, but today Aero, Arik, Akwa Ibom state have embarked on training of pilots and engineers. Currently NCAA is training over 100 engineers this year. Kano state government has sent 100 pilot trainees to Jordan and Mish Aviation in Ghana and NCAT has graduated a high number of pilots and engineers, but it will take time for us to bridge the gap,” Balami said.