by Umaru-Maina Kidaff
Since the collapse of the national carrier – Nigeria Airways – in 2003 the aviation industry has recorded series of setbacks in all spheres ranging from frequent air disasters, dilapidated airports, unreliable radio and navigational aid facilities as well as rising number of competent unemployed professionals within the industry.
Many will agree that one of the most respected professions in the world alongside medicine and engineering is piloting. Of course there can’t be an aviation sector without pilots, thanks to the Wright brothers who proved it was possible for man to beat gravity in 1903 with one of the brothers losing his life in the cause.
Unfortunately the aviation sector today in Nigeria is in a sad state in which a high number of competent young pilots are roaming the streets in search of jobs. Yes, I know a lot of you will be surprised that pilots are seeking for jobs but the hard truth is there are well over 500 unemployed licensed pilots currently in the country. This has never been the case as most of the older pilots have testified that it was almost automatic from flight school to the airline before now. So what has gone wrong?
Firstly, could it have been the case of “a prophet has no honor in his homeland”? In Nigeria, most operators prefer to hire foreigners [whites] than locals. These operators argue that they do it for marketability purpose as most Nigerians prefer to be flown by whites even though most of these locals performed greatly and graduated top of their classes in school. Should Nigerian pilots in turn apply to foreign countries?
As a matter of fact many of us have tried but all efforts amounted to nothing. I was perplexed when I got a mail from a foreign company I applied to, stating unequivocally that their federal government and the civil aviation authority have made a law barring them from employing foreign nationals with less than 1000hours of flight time. They said this was to ensure there are no unemployed local pilots in the country. How does one get 1000hours of flight time?
Averagely a commercial pilot acquires a minimum of 200hours of flight time below his/her belt on graduation from air school, how then is one able to manufacture 800 more hours to meet up the requirement? Especially as one is not given the opportunity even within his/her country. Can our government do anything about this?
Being a pioneer for the change mantra and a very optimistic patriot in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, I was filled with hope when I came across the name Sen. Hadi Sirika as one of the ministerial nominees. As a former pilot there is no ministry that will perfectly suite him other than that of aviation. I watched his former colleagues screen him in the red chambers and I must say I loved the way he reiterated that Nigeria must have a national carrier and that pilots of Nigerian Nationality will be given priority.
Even as I congratulate the honorable minister on an appointment well deserved I must also state clearly that a lot is expected from him and as such policy implementation must start unfolding even before the flag-off of the national carrier.
I have mapped out a 2 point agenda which can be considered by the government.
Airlines should be compelled to take in unemployed graduates as interns [graduate-internship-trainee] for the sake of observation, the nature of our profession is very sensitive and one can’t afford to lose touch of cockpit procedures. This should be done via the NCAA in a manner that as a pilot is issued a Nigerian license he/she is as well assigned to a company as an intern.[an example can be taken from the medicine graduates housemanship programme]. I strongly believe this measure will actively engage the young jobless professionals and will curb away the saying that ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’.
The ultimatum given to all airlines operating in Nigerian airspace to have at least one Nigerian pilot in the cockpit should be strictly adhered to by the present government, the logic behind this being that the Nigeria route is one of the most profitable routes in the continent and as such it will cost most of the big foreign airlines nothing to employ at least 5 pilots each and this will in turn leave the local airlines in the country with no option than to absorb the unemployed pilots.
The suggestions above are my humble opinion which I strongly believe will bring about fast positive change in the lives and careers of currently unemployed pilots.
Umaru-Maina Kidaffa is a human rights activist.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.