- Enhancing Local Aircraft Maintenance Capacity
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has licensed an indigenous firm, 7 Star Global Hangar, to operate as an aircraft Maintenance Repair Organisation (MRO). The facility has raised the stakes in capacity of local firms to maintain Boeing 737 classics. Besides saving the over $ 90 million spent on C- check for the aircraft type in the fleet of domestic carriers, the facility will create more jobs and remove problems of offshore maintenance, KELVIN OSA OKUNBOR reports.
Last week’s nod by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to an indigenous firm, 7 Star Global Hangar, to repair Boeing 737 Classics fleet in Lagos and Abuja was historic in many ways.
This is the first time the regulator is granting approval to an indigenous firm to carry out such a job in two locations.
Specifically, the firm will be carrying out major maintenance repairs known in aviation par lance as C- check on Boeing Classics.
C-Check is a major maintenance repair carried out on an aircraft every 18 months in line with regulatory requirements.
Findings at the NCAA reveal that there are over 30 registered Boeing aircraft on the fleet of Nigerian carriers, including: Air Peace; Arik Air, Aero, Azman Air, Medview Airlines and other carriers. They include Boeing 737-300; 400; 500; 600; 700 and 800 series.
Before the approval, Nigerian carriers with Boeing 737- Classics ferry their aircraft to Morocco, South Africa, Ethiopia, Europe, Middle East, United States or South America for the mandatory 18-month C-check, which costs operators an average of $2 million per aircraft.
Boeing Aircraft constitutes over 60 per cent of the planes in the fleet of indigenous carriers.
7 Star Global Hangar, owned and managed by Nigerians, its promoters said, would start operations next week, following relevant approvals from the regulator to carry out the critical assignment.
The firm will be the second, besides Aero Contractors, which wsas licensed to carry out major maintenance checks for registered Boeing aircraft on the fleet of domestic carriers.
The new move, many experts said, would save Nigeria over $90 million hitherto spent on offshore maintenance of their Boeing aircraft in Europe, United States and some Middle and Far East countries.
According to the Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika, domestic carriers spend between $1.8 million and $ 3 million to carry out C- check on a B737 classic aircraft.
Airlines spending during major airplane repairs covers aircraft ferry, labour, spares and crew allowance and accommodation during the repairs.
In an interview in Lagos, 7 Star Global Hangar Chief Executive Officer, Isaac Balami, an aircraft engineer, said the firm will stock comprehensive spare parts in Lagos and Abuja that will be available to airlines in Nigeria, West and Central African regions.
Balami, while urging operators to take advantage of the new facility, decried the high cost of maintenance in West and Central African regions, saying the hangar has come as a huge relief.
Balami who is a President of National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) , while serving as a senior manager at Aero Contractors , said he left the airline to focus on the new facility.
, He said with the license issued by NCAA to the firm to serve as an “Approved Maintenance Organization”, airlines could now save millions of dollars hitherto taken abroad for aircraft repairs.
He said: “As we commence operations, millions of dollars will be saved for airlines greatly reducing capital flight.”
Balami said the firm is working with Jordanian, American and European technical partners , who will pull expertise to fix Boeing Classic and new generation private jets, military and para military planes and other aircraft types.
He said the new facility , will assist to reduce airlines mortality, which has over the years been bogged down by prohibitive cost of aircraft maintenance.
Balami said : “ Over the years, the huge cost of aircraft maintenance has been a prime contributor to the failure of so many airlines. This has resulted in capital flight and fleet erosion, all of which can be mitigated and eliminated with licensed local maintenance support. “
He said aircraft maintenance costs continue to rise because of oscillating exchange rate.
Balami assured that with pool of local expertise the firm parades , it will deliver a facility in Nigeria to assist African operators.
He airlines lose a lot of money if a single Boeing 737 is grounded awaiting maintenance.
He said the owners of offshore facilities expected the affected operator to pay more N100,00 daily, a development he said, impacts negatively on the airline.
Balami said the facility will save indigenous carriers additional costs, including navigational charges; crew salaries and other expenses, which they would have incurred, if the aircraft was ferried abroad for major maintenance.
He said the aircraft repair centre would be available in Abuja in a few weeks delivering cost reduced international class services.
Balami said: “Our new hangar in Abuja can take two Boeing 737 at the same time. Some of the experts in the organisation have worked for more than 30 years at local and international levels.
“ Our technical partners from Jordan, United States and Europe bring more than 50 years combined in operations on aircraft heavy maintenance, ranging from C-D Checks to aircraft paintings, among others.
“Together, we have determined to ensure aircraft serviceability across Africa. This MRO will create hundreds of jobs in the next few months as well stimulate opportunities across the sector supply chain.”
Also, an aviation expatriate and founding Director of 7 Star Global Hangar, Dr Abiodun Asekun, said the facility is a step in the right direction.
Asekun said as former Managing Director of American Airlines, he would bring his experience as manager of the biggest maintenance repair organisation in the world to bear on the utilisation of the facility.
He said: “The approval of the licence by NCAA is a right step in the right direction. We hope this facility will play a major role in support of and close working partnership with the new Nigerian National carrier scheduled to commence operations, very soon.
“This facility will be the only stand alone MRO in West And Central Africa with huge potentials. This is key because there is no parking space in the air, we have put together the best brains in the aircraft maintenance, managements, engineering, modifications, fabrications, training, design and manufacturing on the ground.
He said: “This is a new dawn in the Nigerian and African aviation sectors that will save the country huge amount of money and urged the government to provide enabling environment to ensure survival of the MRO.”
Also, 7 Global Hangar Accountable Manager, Ibrahim Nock, an aircraft engineer, said the firm could not have come at a better time than when government is planning to set up a national carrier.
Nock said: “The national carrier fleet are encouraged to take advantage of our facility, to generate jobs for the vast number of talented but jobless engineers across the country.
‘’This is also an opportunity to stretch the best aviation enginerrs at home and across the Diaspora – many of whom have made up their minds to return home to support the great efforts of the government.’’
Speaking recently in Lagos, Sirika said the government would continue to encourage investors willing to set up MRO in Nigeria.
He said: “It is noteworthy that Boeing 737 aircraft are the most aircraft fleet operated in Nigeria by most indigenous airlines, prior to now and in the lifespan of other administrations. Nigeria experienced huge capital flight of nothing less than $1.8million and $3million per Boeing aircraft that left our shores for C-Checks and there are more than 30 of such aircraft operating so you do the arithmetic.”
Also, Air Peace Chairman Allen Onyema called on the government to approve indigenous operators to run MRO facilities.
He said: “What I will advise the government to do is to facilitate the establishment of more maintenance hangars that can do up to D-check and the world will be coming here to maintain their plane and we will be getting foreign exchange.
‘’Air Peace alone spends huge foreign exchange to maintain our aircraft overseas. None of our planes come back with less than $3 million for every C-check because we do comprehensive C-checks.
“This year alone, we have sent about seven aircraft overseas for C-check; that is over $21 million from one airline alone. You can imagine if the hangar is situated in Nigeria. If this money is domiciled here and used here, it will create a lot of jobs. So, we need a maintenance hangar.’’
Former Chief Executive Officer, Aerocontractors of Nigeria, Captain Fola Akinkuotu, said the high cost of C-check usually force some domestic carriers to abandon their airplanes in countries of repairs.
Akinkuotu said airlines could make significant savings if maintenance facilities were available in-country.
Also, African Business Aircraft Association (AFBAA) Chairman Nick Fadugba has advised operators to leverage their operations through the pooling of fleet, training of personnel and co-running a maintenance repair and overhaul facility.
According to him, the government can support such initiatives through the allocation of land around airports at affordable cost.
He urged FAAN to adopt a policy of giving land at little or no cost to attract investments in tooling hangar and manpower training.
Noting that Africa’s MRO business should be exploited, Fadugba lamented the absence of MROs in West Africa, taking cognizance of aircraft type available for line maintenance, and the possibility of business for potential investors.