Saturday, December 15, 2012

Airline crisis: Operators abandon 18 planes, 10 engines abroad

At least 18 Nigerian-owned airplanes and 10 aircraft engines belonging to domestic airlines have been abandoned in maintenance facilities across Europe and Africa owing to lack of funds to settle the accrued repair bills, authoritative sources at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and Nigerian Airspace Management Agency told SUNDAY PUNCH on Friday
Majority of the aircraft were sent overseas between six and nine months ago for routine maintenance called C-check.
 
The C-check, which costs between $1m and $1.5m, usually takes an average of one month. The C-check is usually done on aircraft at 18 months’ intervals.
 
Local industry analysts and airline executives estimated that each of the aircraft and engine stranded in the foreign hangars due to lack of funds was worth $4m and $1.5m respectively, giving a total average value of $87m (N13.92bn).
 
Already, the shortage of aircraft is affecting a crisis-ridden local airline industry, which has been groaning under skyrocketing cost of operations, among other challenges.
 
This development is coming amid a recent report that a Nigerian-registered Boeing 737-200 plane marked 5N-TSA belonging to a moribund local airline, is being transformed into a cafe in Romania, South East Europe.
 
According to a foreign news portal, airlinestravel, the plane is being re-assembled and refurbished to house a café that will provide a 360 degree view of Ploiesti West Park, the largest industrial and logistics park in SE Europe.
 
NCAA and NAMA sources confirmed that majority of the 18 airplanes and 10 jet engines, currently stranded across Europe and Africa, belonged to some of the local airlines that suspended operations within the last one year.
 
Further investigation showed that some of the airplanes and engines might be repossessed from the maintenance facilities by their original foreign owners, just as it was learnt that some of them had been repossessed already.
 
However, owners of the maintenance facilities, it was learnt, might soon begin moves to auction some of the planes and engines after obtaining court injunctions, particularly those that had overstayed in the foreign hangars.
 
The sources listed some of the countries where the maintenance facilities are located as Romania, Portugal, Dublin, Paris, Ethiopia and South Africa.
 
However, the Director-General, NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren, told SUNDAY PUNCH that only a few airplanes were outside the country. He was not specific on figure.
 
He said, “Some of the airlines are planning to re-fleet and, as such, they may not bring those aircraft back into the country. Some of the aircraft outside the country have been repossessed by the foreign lessors. So they are not coming back again, but for others that lack funds, the bail out by the government has helped them and they will soon bring them back into the country.”
 
Aviation consultant, Mr. Deba Uwadiae, said lack of funds was a major reason why airplanes belonging to Nigerian airlines became stranded in overseas hangars.
He said, “The aircraft and engines have been abandoned in maintenance workshops in Ethiopia, Dublin, Brussels and Paris because they could not raise money to pay their charges.”
 
The President, National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, Mr. Isaac Balami, however blamed the airline operators for the ugly trend.
 
“The C-checks airlines cost between $1m and $1.5m on the average for a Boeing 737 Classic series plane. The problem is that our airlines have managerial problems. They don’t plan for these things ahead of time which is very bad. No proper planning.
 
“Also, we cannot rule out the fact that the operational environment is very harsh. They get loans at over 20 per cent interest rate, whereas their counterparts abroad do so at only less than five per cent. Also, if we have Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul facility, i.e an aircraft maintenance hangar in West Africa, then we won’t spend up to what we are doing in Europe to maintain our planes,” the NAAPE leader added.
 
Aircraft maintenance engineer and Managing Director, Finum Aviation Services, Mr. Sheri Kyari, also attributed the problem to bad revenue management and lack of adequate planning on the part of airline operators.
 
He said, “Most airline operators do not usually put into consideration most factors that later appear during the course of their business. Some of them bring in an aircraft without taking a proper assessment of their maintenance history. After flying them for some time, they will be due for maintenance. They will then fly the aircraft abroad for maintenance but won’t be able to pay the bill. This has become rampant and it is high time the NCAA looked into this properly. Anytime an airline goes out of operation, the passengers suffer.”
 
Recently, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, threatened to remove all abandoned aircraft from airports across the country, saying the rising number of airplanes across the country constituted menace and safety hazard to the sector.
 
OYETUNJI ABIOYE/PUNCH NEWSPAPERS
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