Despite over 1,000 pilots that are currently not engaged and roaming the streets, the aviation industry in Nigeria has been hit by a shortage of pilots. Aside from Nigeria, the global aviation industry is facing a similar problem. A widespread deficit of pilots across all continents have affected the sector, particularly in recent years, with cases of pilot shortages regularly occurring.
A top official with the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), at the close of a symposium organised by Nigeria’s Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) on Safe Skies Africa Initiative, established 20 years ago by former President Bill Clinton’s administration to support Africa, recently, said the situation is not limited to Nigeria, but the global aviation sector.
Nigeria’s case is ironical because while so many young pilots and aircraft engineers are seeking to fly for airlines, airline operators are looking for very experienced pilots and engineers who are not being replaced.
The shrinking size of aircraft in the fleet of airline operators has forced many Nigerian pilots to seek greener pastures outside the shores of Nigeria.
Faced with a dearth of experienced crew, operators are engaging foreigners to take over the cockpit of their aircraft. It is not out of place to find foreigners, especially from Eastern Europe, dominate aircraft cockpit in Nigeria. Whether they are on strike due to low salaries, discouraged by increasingly challenging training courses or attracted by more competitive markets, airport and aircraft workers are decreasing in number, often leading to disruption in flights and limited service across the world.
Figures from Boeing’s Pilot and Technician Outlook 2018-2037 suggest the situation could even get worse if not urgently tackled. According to the company’s estimates, the industry will need two million new commercial airline pilots, maintenance technicians and cabin crew members over the next 20 years. Employee deficit is also being felt the most in air traffic management as there are serious air traffic controllers’ shortage.
Although air traffic figure is very low in Nigeria compared to the United States where controllers guide 70,000 flights a day, while ensuring that 736 million passengers a year arrive at their destinations safely, air traffic controllers in Nigeria still complain of shortage of hands, poor remuneration and unhealthy work place conditions, leading to low morale and lack of concentration most times. Unfortunately, budgetary missteps and bureaucratic red tape have led to a shortage of controllers. What has been a concern for many years has now reached a crisis level. The nation’s ATC system has the fewest Certified Professional Controllers –1,200 – in nearly three decades.
Controller staffing has fallen nearly 10 per cent since 2010, NAMA missed its hiring goals for the last seven years and there are more controllers eligible to retire today than are currently in the pipeline to replace them.