Engr. John Ekundayo, an aeronautic engineer with one of the domestic carriers, in his remarks, said that carrying out of checks on the aircraft in foreign countries make operations difficult for the airlines.
He said that countries like Ethiopia, Morocco and South Africa where such checks are carried out benefit huge foreign exchange from the Nigerian airlines.
He added that many of the country’s carriers had closed shop due to lack of maintenance hangar in the country, which added to their cost of operations.
Ekundayo noted that in the past, so much noise was made about establishing a national hangar, which would be government-owned, but despite the assurances of the government to invest in that aspect of aviation, nothing tangible had come out of it.
He noted that it would be much more affordable for airlines in the country to have their aircraft checks done in Nigeria than take them overseas and be able to save themselves and the country money, adding that such facility is lacking in the entire West and Central Africa.
He said: “But considering the thinking of the current government, which had always declared that government, has no business in running businesses because of its lack of core competence in this area, it has become obvious that a national hangar in the real sense of the world can no longer be attained.
“It will be much more affordable for airlines in the country to have their aircraft checks done here than take them overseas and be able to save themselves and the country money. Moreover, there is no such facility in the entire West and Central Africa. Therefore, if there is one in Nigeria, the country automatically becomes a hub of aircraft maintenance in the region, and that means more foreign exchange for the country.”
Aviation stakeholder, Mr. Olumide Ohunayo, said lack of coordination by some operators and some state governors had made the hangar project unrealistic.
“What we have are small hangars that handle corporate jets and act as parking bays with the aim of generating un-taxable revenue. The other hangars owned by operators have limitation in maintenance, which may not go beyond a B- check.”
Engr. Sheri Kayari, the Chief Executive Officer of Centre of Aviation Safety and Research (CAS-R), said that one of the major challenges confronting the carriers is absence of infrastructure, which includes MRO.
He said that a good MRO facility would address the needs of most of the commercial airlines while it would also lead to creation of jobs for teeming qualified professionals in the sector.
Kyari noted that the establishment of the facility was a step in the right direction, but expressed surprise at the hype that followed its set up.
He added that the facility was long overdue in the country, but noted that the present facility could only take care of just one aircraft at once.
He said: “It’s a right step in the right direction. However, the hype concerning this is amazing in this country because some people have forgotten that even Nigeria Airways was carrying out D-Check maintenance on B737 in this country and it handled C-Checks on Airbus aircraft, but they all phased out due to lack of maintenance.
“However, it’s a good step in the right direction and we hope they can expand the facilities in order to accommodate more aircraft because that facility can only accommodate one aircraft at a time.
“We are looking at a facility that can take three to four Boeings at the same time so that not only are you looking at the Nigeria’s market, you are also looking at West Africa so that you can compete with Ethiopia and Egypt and others. It is long overdue. We congratulate Aero Contractors for whatever they have done.”
However, while Nigeria is still dilly-dallying on establishing an MRO facility and its airlines ferry their aircraft to other countries across the world, the Ethiopian government is expending resources and generating massive returns on its maintenance facility.
During a recent visit to the maintenance facility of Ethiopian Airlines, it was discovered that the Ethiopian Government solely owns and controls the facility, which carries out maintenance for all models of aircraft and generates several billions of dollars into the coffers of the airline group annually.
In all, Ethiopian Airlines Group has four MRO facilities and one of the hangars could occupy four Boeing 747 aircraft.
Apart from the generating revenues for the group, it also generates employment for its citizens and that of the continent as all the engineers in the facilities are all Africans, most especially from Ethiopia.
The MRO facility, which was established in 1957, currently employs over 2,800 technical personnel who carry out full maintenance on aircraft.
Ethiopian MRO provides line maintenance services at stations where Ethiopian Airlines flies and extends the services to other operators at some of the stations.
The facility is fully certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), European Common Aviation Area (ECAA), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and other recognised bodies in global aviation industry.
Ethiopian MRO offers world-class services to its customers and helps make Ethiopian one of the most dependable and safest airlines in the world.
Commenting on the maintenance facility during an interview with journalists, Mr. Esayas Wolde Mariam Hailu, Managing Director, Ethiopian Airlines International Operations, disclosed that the facility was the largest in Africa and serves the continent, Europe and the Middle East.
Hailu explained that the facility was fully equipped with hangars, engine and component maintenance workshops with all equipment needed to repair and overhaul aircraft, engines and components.
He said: “The MRO is a Boeing first place in Africa. We carry out complete airframe maintenance for A, B, C, D checks and unscheduled maintenance on Boeing 737, 757, 767, Airbus 350, Fokker 50, Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, McDonnell Douglas MD-11 and many others. Our clients cut across the world; Europe, Asia and clients from the continent.
“Even if you have flown a lot you might have not fully appreciated the size of the largest civil jet engines until you are up close with these huge engines as you walk through the workshop.
Haliu explained that despite the facility being owned by government, the management does not expect any cash injection from the government.
Rather, he said it has developed every of its facilities, including the airline from cash injection from finance companies like Exim Bank of Europe, Exim Bank of China, Exim Bank of America and aircraft manufacturers among others.
He added: “When these organisations see consistency in our profitability yearly and the successes recorded, they try to come in and finance some of our projects. When Ethiopian Airlines was established in 1945, it was established by Trans World Airlines from the United States, which is no longer in existence, but was one of the biggest carriers then.
“The airlines put on ground solid structures and in a few years later, the airline was indigenised because the Ethiopian wanted to take over the running of their own carrier, having garnered the experience. So, since then, we have been developing the airline and other facilities we have on our own and we give big attention to training and succession plan.”