• Airlines downsize, shrink operations
• Declare emergency, operators, NANTA tell government
• FG holds talks with Aero, AMCON, others
Thousands of workers in the nation’s aviation sector may soon lose their jobs, as airlines’ operators groan under the weight of economic challenges.In the line of fire are over 400 pilots including expatriates, 1,200 crewmembers and more than 1,000 travel agents.
Bristow Helicopters, Caverton, Executive Jet and others have already trimmed their workforces, citing low patronage, prompting calls by operators and travel agencies for a declaration of a state of emergency in the sector.
The Federal Government, meanwhile, has pledged it would rescue the country’s distressed domestic airlines. The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said yesterday that government was aware of problems facing operators and would not watch thousands of Nigerians lose their jobs.
Sirika, at a two-day meeting with stakeholders in Lagos, reiterated that aviation remained central to government’s plan to revamp the economy and boost employment.In attendance were representatives of Aero Contractors, Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), and aviation workers’ unions.
The Airline Operators Association of Nigeria (AOAN) and National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) raised the concern that the remaining five domestic airlines were heavily indebted and were running fleet sizes below what was approved by regulatory authorities. During an emergency session with the Senate Committee on Aviation, yesterday, the AOAN asked the Federal Government for a special intervention fund to stay afloat.
Speaking on behalf of the operators, the Chief Executive Officer of Arik Airline, Chris Ndalue, regretted that the harsh economic environment in which they were operating had gone from bad to worse.The Guardian learnt that less than 30 aircraft make up the total fleet operated by domestic airlines. This represents over 50 per cent cut from 65 serviceable aircraft in operation some years ago.
Sources at Bristow Helicopters disclosed that about 400 workers were laid off, including pilots that had just returned from training in Zaria. Caverton Helicopters also reportedly posted a loss of over N2 billion in the first half of the year.
The Chairman of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggison, said about 1,200 of his colleagues risk job losses. “No airline is operating today at optimum. Everyone is down to 50 to 60 per cent capacity. Everyone is operating at a very tight margin. Government has shown support by making spare parts duty-free, but there is a whole lot that still needs to be done,” he said.
NANTA President, Bernard Bankole, noted: “The issue is alarming and it calls for a state of emergency. We don’t have to wait till it collapses before we take action. Over 3,000 jobs are threatened while airlines are withdrawing. While other countries are surviving on aviation alone, ours is worsening. Government needs to do something urgently.”
An official of one of the airlines, Akin Ademulegun, said anxiety in the industry worsened after Aero Contractors ‘temporarily’ shut scheduled operations.“Nobody is sure of anything, right now. The minimum number of serviceable aircraft required to do domestic operations used to be two. Now, it is three. But how many airlines can boast of that figure or more at this time? That is why there is heightened fear of possible job losses. Many didn’t see airlines closing operations. It came last week and it is now a precedent. That is why everyone is worried,” said Ademulegun.