Aviation Sector: Searching For Local Manpower 

Mr. Osita Chidoka
Mr. Osita Chidoka

One industry that is dominated by foreigners with technical skills is the aviation industry. Majority of pilots and engineers are expatriates.

Shortage of indigenous manpower had been a major challenge for airline operators in the country. This has led to the overdependence to on expatriate staff.

Recently, the federal government admitted that training of aircraft pilots and engineers would address the manpower gap in the nation’s aviation industry.

But industry experts have expressed the fears that expatriates are likely to dominate the aviation industry for a very long time. This is because they have the technical skills that are needed to propel the sector. Besides, they also have the required experience, which is difficult to equate.

Although the federal government provided the expatriate quotas in the industry, which must not be exceeded by airlines, although the Nigerian Immigration Service, from time to time evaluates airlines to know whether they have exceeded their quota and also sanctions those that flouted the expatriate quote requirements, stakeholders argue that it is difficult to enforce local content policy in the sector because of many controversies.
The quota for foreign pilots is different from that of engineers and administrative staff. For example, if an airline brings in Boeing 777, the airline may not have any Nigerian that operates the machine, so the aircraft will have 100 per cent expatriate quota. Also, the insurance may stipulate that any captain who has not recorded over 1000 hours on the aircraft type should not operate it.

There are few Nigerians that can operate that type of aircraft, so it may be difficult to get an indigenous captain that can fly the aircraft. But if an airline brings Boeing 737-300 and above, known in the industry parlance as classics, there will be many Nigerians that can operate it; therefore, it is expected that the airline that brought the aircraft should employ Nigerians pilots.

In the area of engineering, airlines are expected to train engineers and with the local content policy, Nigerian airlines are expected to embark on massive training of the engineers for them to acquire enough knowledge to do the job. At the same time, however, airlines still need experienced engineers. Expatriate quota for administrative personnel in the industry could be as low as 10 per cent and it is expected that airlines should imbibe a policy on skill transfer, whereby an expatriate administrative staff will have Nigerians working under him who will learn from him.

An operator in the industry said local content policy has not worked in the aviation industry as it was in the oil and gas industry. But some airlines have embraced the policy and they are making it to work.
Manpower Development
Some airlines embark on personnel training as corporate social responsibility and others train personnel, after which, they engage the trainees to work for them as full employees. These are the ones that actually observe the local content policy of the federal government.

The outgoing acting Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Benedict Adeyileka recently urged indigenous airlines to give Nigerians a chance by employing them as technical personnel in the aviation industry in response to the local content policy of the federal government.

“We have to employ our own people. There should be a national interest in all that we do. They say it is an ego thing to have white people working for you, but don’t bring those who have come to learn on the job as replacement for Nigerians and don’t make Nigeria a dumping ground. If you open business in the UK, you have to employ UK citizens. The law that stipulates that is in Nigeria, but why is Nigeria ignoring the same law? Caverton has Nigerians as employees. You pay good salary you get the right people, so you have to employ Nigerians,” Adeyileka said.

He said, a lot of things needed to be done to help Nigerian airlines, noting that Nigeria needs a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility, as well Nigerian engineers that would work in the facility, so Nigerians have to be trained.

Enforcement of the Local Content

The Caverton Group, Medview Airline and Arik Air have embraced the local content programme and have started training and absorbing Nigerians in their workforce. But Caverton seems to have gone a notch higher than others and it is now directly working with the National Content Development Board (NCDB) to develop indigenous manpower in the technical areas of the industry.

Last week, during the graduation ceremony of 15 Nigerian engineers trained by Caverton Helicopters (subsidiary of Caverton Offshore Supporting Group (COSG) who were type-rated in the modern helicopter, AW139, the General Manager, NCDB, Chijioke Okere, admitted that Caverton is helping NCDB to actualise the goals set by the Board, which is to ensure that more Nigerians are trained and engaged in the sector.

Okere said when equipment like the engine of an aircraft is taken out of the country to be repaired, the Nigerian company that ferried the engine overseas is developing the manpower of that country where the engine of the aircraft is being repaired, but if the there are Nigerians that can do that in the country, the funds that would be taken out of the country would be saved and Nigerians would be employed and paid to do the job here. At the end it will benefit the country more.

“We are building capacity in human and material resources. We are always excited to witness local content event. We appreciate what Caverton is doing. Caverton continues to show that it is at home in Nigeria. We expect to see more of this so that Nigeria can compete with others in the world in terms of skilled manpower,” Okere said.

Since 2010 when the company put in place a training programme, 146 Nigerians have been trained at a cost of more than $1.2million. Those trained included: three personnel for flight operations Ab-Initio, one for Private Pilot License(PPL), two for Commercial Pilot License (CPL) and two for Rotary Wing Conversion; 81 pilots for different flight operations Type Rating training for all aircraft  types -EC155, AW139, Bell 412, S76 and DHC-6. Fifty-seven Aviation engineers have also been trained as follows: 16 Engineering Ab-Initio and 41 Engineering Type Rating training.

The need to put in place a defined training programme for pilots and engineers was heightened when Caverton participated and won a five (+2) year tender to provide 6 x AW139 helicopters for Shell operations in Nigeria. A seventh AW139 was added to the fleet in the fourth year.
To ensure full coverage of the operation and due to the scarcity of trained indigenous personnel, Caverton embarked on an aggressive program to select, train and type-rate indigenous pilots and engineers on a year on year basis. It should be noted that the award of this contract by Shell distinguished Caverton as ‘the poster child’ for local content, explained the company.  Caverton is a testimony to Shell’s commitment to building in-country capacity and giving back as a responsible corporate citizen, the company also noted.

Capital Development

During a recent review of Caverton’s training performance, the CEO of Caverton Offshore Supporting Group (COSG) Mr. Bode Makanjuola, stated that “Caverton will continue to invest in human capital in the aviation and marine sector of the oil and gas business in Nigeria, “as our strength lies in building local capacity and assets.”

Makinjuola also disclosed that Caverton Helicopters had trained and type-rated several Nigerian pilots since it joined the aviation sector as the preferred service provider.

“Caverton aims to be positioned as an employer of first choice and preferred logistics solution provider. In line with this vision, the training department at Caverton Helicopters aims to have a pool of pilots who are available for duty, current in all 18 required currency items for the duration of their tour and thus have zero downtime per crew. The company also wants to develop the fleet support team to their full potential. Caverton has created an environment where any staff that is willing and has passion to work can flourish and move up within the organization,” the CEO said.

Other Nigerian airlines that have embarked on the training of indigenous personnel include Arik Air, which few years ago, developed a programme whereby it sends young Nigerians for ab initio (initial) training and the ones already type rated (specialised) for further training on the New Generation aircraft, which is what it has in its fleet. After the training, the airline absorbs them.

The Deputy Managing Director Arik Air, Captain Ado Sanusi explained in a recent interview, “Since we started we have been developing local capacity including cabin crew, pilots and engineers and other supporting staff like human resources, finance and the rest. There is a deliberate attempt to actually bring out the manpower. Recently the Cranfield University came and we made a joint arrangement on manpower development. So there is deliberate attempt, a particular policy in the company to address manpower shortage in the industry,” Sanusi said.

Also the CEO of Medview Airline, Alhaji Muneer Bankole said that over 90 per cent of their work workforce, both in the technical and administrative areas, come from Nigeria and that the airline has been funding the training of Nigerians on type-rating and conversion, adding that from the onset, the airline employed very few expatriates.

However, Okere of the National Content Development Board acknowledged that Caverton is the only company that has advanced in its embrace of the local content policy.

The Managing Director of Caverton Helicopters, Captain Josiah Choms said: “As you may be aware, there is a shortfall in the pool of type-rated engineers in the country.  Caverton has a dedicated programme to train and give types to indigenous engineers on an on-going basis. This investment in training ties in with the vision of the Nigerian government on local content in so many ways. Indigenous staff are trained to world standards and deployed within our operations. We do not have to spend scarce foreign exchange recruiting staff from all over the world. In this way, we build indigenous capacity and also stem capital flight from the Nigerian shores.”

If more Nigerian airlines embrace the local content policy, it will boost government’s plan for Nigerians to dominate the sector in the technical areas in the next 10 years.

One of the major reasons why Nigerian airlines face financial challenges besides the cost of aviation fuel is the huge money they pay their foreign personnel.

The adherence to local content will stem capital flight of the huge resources paid to foreign pilots and engineers put at over N15 billion per annum. Besides, it will also help the airlines to save money paid to these expatriates who work for six months, but collect one year pay.

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