Wednesday, September 12, 2012

■ NIGERIA: Arik renews its Lufthansa Technik deal as Stella tries to lure Boeing and Bombardier into MRO sector.

Arik AirNigerian carrier, Arik Air (W3) and German maintenance service provider, Lufthansa Technik last week renewed a contract signed in 2006, that will see the German outfit along with Lufthansa Cityline - a sister company providing regional European flights under the Lufthansa brand -  providing technical support to Arik Air in the areas of line maintenance, base maintenance, materials and pool parts among others for the next five years.

Lufthansa Technik is also to assist Arik Air in the area of personnel training and in the establishment of a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility in Nigeria. With a combined workforce of 50 Engineers dedicated to Arik Air’s aircraft maintenance, Lufthansa Technik and City line certify all expendables and consumables in addition to handling the maintenance and spare parts supply of the Nigerian carrier's aircraft.  Lufthansa engineers are also responsible for conducting regular and routine aircraft fleet maintenance and checks. 

Aircraft graveyard at Lagos Airport, Nigeria
The soon-to-be-gone Aircraft graveyard at Lagos (KenIwelumo)
Of particular interest, and perhaps most critically for West African aviation as a whole, is Arik's move to set up its own MRO which will hopefully achieve two important goals: first, to lower the high cost of maintenance which currently has to be done abroad and is therefore highly expensive and second, to skill Nigerians in aircraft MRO.

Since the disastrous crash of Dana Air Flight 9J-992 in June, there has been awakening in the Nigerian aviation scene with regards to proper maintenance and safety, something long seen as costly and even neglected in the past, giving credence to the old adage that every cloud does indeed have its silver lining. 

In August, Nigerian Aviation Minister Stella Oduah-Ogiewonyi led a team to both Canada and the US on an "Investors’ Roadshow" in which presentations for Nigeria were pitched to amongst others Canada's Bombardier and American giant Boeing who both responded positively about entering the Nigerian MRO market, given the right returns.

In her presentation to Bombardier in Montreal, Minister Oduah-Ogiewonyi outlined the underlying problem and its solution:
"We are in need of your aircraft no doubt but what concerns us really is to agree on a business model that will work for both of us. Now, for us to optimise the utilisation of your aircraft, we must be able to service and maintain them properly in Nigeria. What this means is that our people have to be trained, which means the training and maintenance facility has to be established in Nigeria. The MRO facility has to be established in Nigeria."

Minister Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi
Minister Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi
But, what good is having the latest, most sophisticated aircraft in your fleet when the infrastructure used to guide and direct them is either non-existent or antiquated?

Enter Boeing.

Post Montreal, the Minister was then able to secure an agreement with Boeing in which it would collaborate and partner with the Ministry of Aviation in enhancing and sustaining Nigeria’s safety record, in a addition to developing Nigeria into a major hub on the continent with aviation as the main engine of growth for the nation’s economy.

Under the agreed 8-Point Programme of Action between Boeing and the Aviation Ministry, Boeing will:
  • play a major role in the establishment of MROs in Nigeria,
  • establish a Boeing Training Hub in Nigeria
  • carry out technical assessment of all aircraft operated by domestic airlines in the country
  • fleet renewal and acquisition programme for the airlines
  • develop an aviation database for the country
  • provide a diagnostic kit for early warning signals on the physical and operational conditions of domestic carriers
  • carry out a comprehensive assessment of all existing MRO platforms in Nigeria and report on their capacities in relation to all classes of mandatory maintenance checks
  • carry out an assessment of training facilities and operational capacity of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) in Zaria.
The scope of the 8-Point Programme of Action also covers the development of an Integrated Air Navigation System (based on PBN), Optimisation System Support for Airports and Airlines as well as assessing the  existing Spare-parts & Material Market in Nigeria with the long term goal of establishing an integrated spare parts "Super Market" in Nigeria.

With Nigeria's economy continuing to grow rapidly, so too is its annual passenger traffic: currently at 14.7 million annually with 7% growth per annum and rising. As a result, the country's need for cheap, reliable and above all safe air travel is going to be at the forefront of its transport requirements. The question is, will all this investment be enough and will this be Nigeria's moment to get it right for once, or will the situation degenerate into one big disaster like the oil industry and power industry?