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Third NBAC Conference raises awareness of perception, process and progress in Nigerian aviation.

The third outing of the Nigerian Business Aviation Conference, held in Lagos, 17 – 18 March clearly demonstrated the country’s progress in the business aviation sector, whilst confirming there was still a long way to go to bring it in line with the more established regions. Welcoming o.ver 150 delegates and speakers Segun Demuren, CEO of EAN Aviation and host of NBAC 2016, opened the event by putting the importance of Nigerian business aviation in context. The Nigerian business aviation market is expanding, not only in terms of corporate jet users, but also in the fields of medevac, surveillance, logistics, agriculture, cargo, security and rescue services. In 2015 25% of the Nigerian annual aviation income, $685 million, was generated by the business aviation market, and it is set to continue to grow.  Consequently Demuren argued there is an increased need for maintenance services, infrastructure upgrades and developments in addition to an uptick in human resources. After all, “commercial aviation flies to where the money is, whilst business aviation flies to where the money will be,” he suggested.

 

A group of young entrepreneurs is maximising the opportunities presented by these statistics. More established companies such as Toucan Aviation, which provides long-term contract charter services to the energy sector, and Triton Aviation, a full aviation services company have been joined by a number of younger companies buoying up the sector. In May last year, ANAP Jets launched a business providing fractional ownership of Embraer 300 aircraft, which are the perfect aircraft for reaching internal and regional destinations. Whilst Izy Air is developing a continually expanding aviation services business offering charter, aircraft sales, and management services across not just Nigeria, but all of Africa. This new blood added dynamism to the conference and is bolstering the sector’s growth as well.

 

However the community is still up against a raft of challenges. ANAP Jets Chairman Atedo Peterside asked why the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority pushes for the same operational standards for his business with two Embraers as with a commercial airline. Ironically the post holders and human resources required to fulfil the guidelines to be awarded an AOC pushes operators into the commercial aviation category. The authorities say this is under review.

 

Taxation also continues to penalise the industry, import duties on spare parts means they are often held up in customs, and whilst Nigeria is part of the Cape Town Convention there is still excise duty to pay on imported aircraft. There is also talk of a luxury tax which delegates agreed was ridiculous when only one in one hundred flights is used for leisure travel. It also explains why there is confusion surrounding when an operator needs an AOC. As Dr Harold Demuren, retired head of the NCAA succinctly put it, “Thou shalt not operate an aircraft in the public transport category for hire or reward unless you have an AOC. It’s the law of the land.” However it became apparent that in a fledgling market like Nigeria there are many keen to be involved in business aviation, but who have minimal or no experience. This causes concern in terms of regulations, safety, and is an area that all agreed needs more awareness, and operations.

 

Developing safety procedures and a robust infrastructure to support them is essential to the growth of business aviation in the region. Examples of GSM masts randomly placed, airports using out of date charts without being aware, and the lack of information about services available, all mean that operators must do their research to operate safely. Achuzie Ezenagu of Toucan argued that for Nigerian business aviation, “to go to a better place it is the institutional imperative of the nation, from a building point of view, to invest.” On some levels tis clashes with media and public perception that business aviation is for the elite and delegates suggested a national media campaign would dispel many myths. The call for nation building stimulated debate about the option of Public Private Partnerships in order to give the industry a boost, as inevitably poor infrastructure will deter investment. “Investment in infrastructure opens up regions after all, and it is up to the aviation community to educate the government,” added Ezenagu.

 

MRO still face challenges in Nigeria as the costs remain prohibitive for set up. A number of Nigerians are being trained internationally with the aim of returning with skills to develop MRO locally. However as new models enter the region, foreign pay and conditions remain attractive, and many Nigerian aircraft owners have a second home outside of the country where MRO facilities are available, imminent change is unlikely. A call for aviation manufacturing was made from the floor, which circled the discussion back to the need for the nation to invest in the sector.

 

The conference ended with a call from participants for the development of a Nigerian business aviation group, which would meet quarterly, to educate and lobby the government about regulations and policies, tax reduction, and infrastructure investment. As Dr Demuren added, “If you can build 4km of road you can go 4km, but if you can build 4km of runway you can go all over the world.”

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