The aviation industry in Nigeria is in dire straits and President Jonathan must not allow it to collapse.
Over the past few years, many domestic airlines have continued to close shop and those still in business are doing so at a huge cost.
Some airlines owe several monthsâ€™ salaries to their staff. Others have sacked about 30 percent of their workforce and slashed the salaries of the remaining staff by about 30 percent as well.
On 25 May, a domestic airline owned by a business mogul did not flight for about eight hours as it did not have money to buy jet A1 as aviation fuel is known. Fuel marketers no longer collect cheques from the airlines. They operate on cash-and-carry basis.
The cost of aviation fuel is said to be gulping about 40 percent of operational costs of most airlines in the country. It is said to be one of the most expensive in the world. For instance, when former president Olusegun Obasanjo came into power in 1999, aviation fuel sold for N22 per litre. Today it goes for over N184 per litre.
Taxes are in multiples and airlines have been paying through their noses to import aircraft spare parts into the country.
To stay in business, many airlines have increased their domestic fares by about 30 percent. Passengers are worst hit as they keep paying more for air fares.
Daily, almost all the airlines experience long flight delays and passengers wait endlessly at hot terminal buildings across the 21 airports being managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria.
The whole aviation industry is sick and President Jonathan and his advisers on aviation matters must come to terms with this fact and act fast.
The problems plaguing Nigeriaâ€™s aviation industry are greater than the United States category one safety level the president and the former Aviation Minister, Mrs. Fidelia Njeze, have been bragging about. The certification simply means that a few Nigerian airlines can now fly directly to the United States, but it does not mean the industry is viable.
But, even after the certification, the main problems bedeviling the industry still persist. For instance, aviation is still over-taxed in this nation. Airlines pay huge taxes for landing, parking, and tickets sales.
The workforce is ageing very fast and in a few years, experts predict that Nigeria will not have many experienced pilots to fly our planes.
The stakeholders recently warned that if the government does not act now by training more pilots, air traffic controllers, accident investigators, meteorological staff, firefighters and other key workers in the sector, the country will soon depend on either foreigners or inexperienced hands to fly our planes or manning other sensitive tasks and positions. This is unacceptable.
The aviation industry is too important to national development to be neglected. The president must act fast and ensure that Jet A1 is affordable. Taxes must be reduced and spare parts must be duty free. More pilots, air traffic controllers, accident investigators, firefighters and other staff must be trained.
Financial assistance must be given to struggling airlines and mechanisms put in place to ensure that the airlines do not default. Airlines that cannot survive on their own must come together and merge.
The aviation industry can thrive in Nigeria if things are done properly and seamlessly as is the case even in countries that Nigeria dwarfs economically.