Nigeria's aviation industry has undergone a massive shake-up, with the sacking of the entire management of Nigeria Airways and the merger of the Federal Civil Aviation Authority and the Nigerian Airports Authority.

Group captain Peter Gana replaces managing director Andrew Agom at Nigeria Airways, after what the minister of aviation, air commodore Nsikak Eduok, describes as 'ineptitude, gross indiscipline, corruption, mismanagement, and lapses' in the duties of the former management.

Nigeria Airways has been experiencing financial difficulties for some time, with estimates of its short-term debt at $100 million. In addition, the carrier owes the Iata clearing house $50 million.

Lack of finances has hit operations badly. Of the carrier's 13 aircraft only two A310s, one DC-10 and two B737s are operational. One A310 sits cannibalised by the runway in Lagos, and a B707, which had an accident last year, still needs maintenance and will cost $4 million to insure. Other aircraft are in need of C or D-checks.

The carrier has ceased flying to Jeddah, because it failed to pay overflight fees to the Sudan, and cannot land in Rome, due to an Italian government order to seize any assets belonging to the Nigerian government.

Gana promises that debts will be paid, however Edouk maintains the government is unwilling to inject capital into the carrier until some improvements have been made. The government may be willing to guarantee loans, however, as it did when Airbus impounded one of its aircraft in London due to late payment.

Gana has made some moves to cut costs at the carrier, including renegotiating service contracts which were under review, retiring over age workers and firing those whose contracts had expired. Unconfirmed reports suggest the airline is planning to lay off 50 per cent of its staff.

Although vague on the future strategy of a restructured Nigeria Airways, Gana did say the carrier will be split into two operating units separating regional and domestic services from international operations.

The government is supporting a search for a foreign airline partner to form a joint venture for the international operations - reviving the Air Nigeria concept proposed three years ago. The foreign partner would have effective control of the operation, according to Edouk. But little can be done until the carrier is automated and on-line with Sita, says a source at Nigeria Airways.

One African aviation source suggests the Nigerian government should have allowed the carrier to go the way of Zambia Airways, which declared bankruptcy last December. But another source counters that the Nigerian government is unlikely to let this happen. 'I cannot see the Nigerian government closing down the airline completely. It is not an economic argument for them, it is an emotive argument.' The creation of a new aviation body, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, is thought to be the result of a dispute between the former managing director of the FCAA, Edouk and the president of the Africa Civil Aviation Commission, Mohammed Agbabiaka, who has also been sacked. The disagreement centred around a 5 per cent ticket sales tax which was managed by the FCAA, but not favoured by the ministry.

The future of the restructured body was under doubt at presstime, as the government had indicated it was not satisfied with some of the appointments made by Edouk.

Source: Airline Business