Several commercial aircraft in the nation’s aviation industry are stranded abroad due to lack of access to foreign exchange at the official market, foreign exchange scarcity, devaluation of naira and lockdown in some foreign countries where the checks are going on.
Scores of aircraft are stranded abroad amidst the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the situation has been compounded by the sharp rise in foreign exchange rates, which has disrupted their operations. C-checks are carried out on aircraft in the Middle East, America, Europe, while few airlines use the Ethiopian Airlines’ facilities at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
The checks are, however, carried out in foreign currency, for instance, it costs a minimum of $1 million (about N470 million) to carry out a C-check on aircraft, while such checks may cost as high as $2 million (N940 million), depending on the scope of work to be carried out on such an aircraft.
However, with the gradual easing of the lockdown, many operators hope for timely delivery of aircraft that were stranded abroad during the lockdown when most Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities were shut down, but lack of access to foreign exchange at official rate, forex scarcity and devaluation of naira have shot up their expenses.
LEADERSHIP checks have shown that no fewer than 50 aircraft are flown by about eight scheduled operators in the country at the moment and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has imposed a calendar limit for a C-Check at every 18 months.
However, the situation with the aircraft abroad has affected airline operation and servicing of new routes due to the capacity gap created by the absence in the nation’s airspace.
Airpeace, the largest carrier in the country still has 17 aircraft trapped abroad while undergoing C- checks. Also, aircraft in the Arik fleet have also been trapped abroad for several months due to mandatory maintenance. Dana Air has two of its aircraft presently in Europe undergoing checks while another one is on the verge of joining the two abroad.
However, industry experts have called for the opening of a special forex window for airlines to stabilize their operations and reduce the challenge of flight disruptions faced by passengers on a daily basis. They also argued that government should build MRO facilities in Nigeria to reduce the need for forex by airline operators.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP, director of engineering, Ibom Airline, Mr Lookman Animashaun, said airlines have limited capacity because of lack of access to forex for spare parts and maintenance.
He said, “CBN has not provided dollar for airlines and that is seriously affecting the industry, operators and passengers. The airlines presently have limited capacity to serve the industry but if dollars are provided for airlines, they will return to operation.
“Government should provide a special window for operators where they can access dollars to save the industry, this is the only way the issue can be nipped in the bud,” he said.
Assistant secretary, Aviation Round Table, Olumide Ohunayo, also called for special window for airline operators to access foreign exchange, and advised government to establish such facilities in Nigeria.
He said devaluation and scarcity of forex are affecting cost of operation as operators get forex from black market instead of the government official window.
“The government should look for a special window for airlines to access foreign exchange, by doing that, it will save them from buying at the black-market rate of about N500 to the dollar.
Also, we should expedite action in having maintenance repair organisation and hangers in Nigeria because when we have these, it saves the airline the cost of ferrying the aircraft out of the country for repairs.