Interview Summary

  • The captain said the Lagos Airport needs remodeling or rebuilding to keep up with global standards and remain competitive in the aviation industry.
  • He stressed the need for the incoming government to prioritize listening to industry professionals, implementing their suggestions, and leveraging Nigeria’s strategic geographic position to become a hub for air travel between Africa and Europe/America.
  • According to him, the Nigerian aviation industry is facing significant challenges, and survival should be the immediate focus before addressing sustainability.

Capt. Sheu Iyal is the former Adviser to the Presidency on the Presidential fleet and is currently the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Afri-Air International Limited.

In this interview with Nairametrics, he spoke on how to sustain growth in the Nigerian aviation industry, the performance of the outgoing government and the expectations of stakeholders in the aviation industry from the incoming government.

Enjoy the conversation.

Nairametrics: How do you think we can sustain growth in the Nigerian aviation industry today?

Capt. Sheu Iyal: The key thing about aviation today and the airline sub-sector is survival. The airlines are neck-deep in trouble, so the industry is suffering. The authorities are suffering. If the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) loses 40 per cent of its revenue, which it generated and the government takes it, how do they want them to run their operations? So, there is a need to talk to the government. There is a need for the government to realise that aviation is more than just business, aviation is a component of national security. So, there is no reason airports and airlines should have the kind of problems they are having today because aviation is a component of national security. So whatever the reason, we must find a way of helping them to survive then we can talk about sustainability. It is in two stages, but if we want to carry the two of them together, it is fine. We must realise that there is a need for survival.

Nairametrics: The Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) in Lagos was fashioned after the Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands about 50 years ago. But the Schiphol Airport has gone through over 15 reconstructions since it was first inaugurated. What do you think can be done to the Lagos Airport?

Capt. Sheu Iyal: I think that now that we have new terminals we have additional spaces that we can move and then remodel or rebuild a 50-year-old edifice. We must do that if we want to be part of the world, and indeed we are a part of the world. Aviation is global, there is no Nigerian aviation, aviation is a global family and we are part of that family.

Nairametrics: Now that this government is coming to an end, what would you want the incoming government to concentrate on in the industry?

Capt. Sheu Iyal: The incoming government should give a listening ear to the people running the parastatals. The incoming government should listen to the voices of the professionals, dissect them, filter them and choose the ones that they can do and start doing them immediately. For whatever reason, Nigeria is blessed. If you look at the map of the world, Nigeria is placed in a position to be a hub for West, East, Central and South Africa to go to Europe and America. So why can’t we make use of that position?

Nairametrics: One of the major challenges confronting aviation agencies and, indeed, other service providers today is the humongous debts of airlines to them which run into several billions of naira. What do you think can be done to curb these rising debts?

Capt. Sheu Iyal: Airlines are at the mercy of so many variables. They are at the mercy of the availability of Jet A1. If it is there, at what price are they getting it? They are at the mercy of even getting a boarding gate; there are so many things. If you run an airline, and you run a business, you will pity them. There is no airline in Nigeria today that can boast of making a profit in any circumstance. We are in a very bad situation in this industry and the country at large. I don’t operate an airline, but I have friends that operate airlines. I wonder how they do it. So, let’s not over-tax or overwhelm the airlines to get into trouble; they are already in trouble. So, what the airlines need now is survival. They should survive first.

Sometimes, for those of us that come from Lagos-Abuja, when I see the airlines’ load factor, I wonder if they are even able to pay for parking, landing and fueling.

Nairametrics: Despite these challenges you enumerated above, more airlines are still coming into the sub-sector. What is your view on this?

Capt. Sheu Iyal: Yes, if you noticed what I am saying, I am not an alarmist, but have you noticed something about more airlines that are coming in? They are coming in with fuel-efficient equipment, the CRJs, ATRs that by the time you have 20 to 22 passengers, you have broken even.

So, I know that Nigeria has not even reached 25 per cent or 30 per cent of aviation businesses, there is still room for expansion and we shall get there. And Nigerians and Nigerian managers are very resilient and they will get out of it, but, it is important to let our government come to the aid of this industry. There are certain areas; if they are not giving them money directly, they should give them some waivers.

Nairamtetrics: What is your say about more state-owned airports that are springing up regularly in the country?

I think the State governments are being futuristic. Let’s look at it this way, Nigeria is a very rich country, you don’t have to carry passengers alone, you can carry cargo, perishables and so many other things. The State governors are not thinking of just today or tomorrow, they are thinking of the next 50 and 100 years. So, they are doing something for themselves and I think we should encourage them.