Capt. Yakubu Okatahi, Acting Rector/CEO of the International Aviation College (IAC), Ilorin, in this interview with our correspondent, said high exchange rate, inflation and cost of aviation fuel are affecting the smooth running of the college and urged the federal government to consider the college in its various interventions as it contributes to manpower development in aviation.
What are the challenges confronting the International Aviation College (IAC), Ilorin?
When we came on board in March 2022, we had a lot of challenges, but we didn’t allow them to weigh us down. Immediately, we decided that we would take the bull by the horns and confront the challenges. Challenges are meant to be solved, and we have been trying our possible best to solve them.
The first challenge we had was that of students not flying due to a paucity of instructors. So, we decided that some should stay at home, while others remain on campus, and we made some arrangements for those who remained in the school; so, they started flying.
Initially, some parents thought IAC was done and out, but we thank God that we are able to return to our former status.
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In the last four months, we have been able to graduate 25 students; 15 of them were Commercial Pilot License (CPL) Instrument Rating and multi-engine, 10 were Private Pilot Licence (PPL) and these want to continue to the CPL level.
We learnt that some of the students have been on campus for more than the 18 months required to graduate as pilots. What are you doing to address this major challenge?
Some of the students we have now, I call them remnants. This is so because we met them in the system and we are just mopping them here and there till we graduate them.
We expect that as soon as we are able to finish with them, we are going to have new students. This training should not be more than 18 to 21 months, but as things are, some students are coming in trickles, and we have to fix them in their appropriate classes.
That is why it is taking them so long to finish, but I promise you that when we get the new set of students, there will be no reason for them to stay here for more than the required 18 to 21 months. However, we are going to introduce new fees for the new intakes. And if the students stay longer than necessary, we will not ask for additional fees.
As a matter of fact, we are not asking for more money because we have agreed with the parents on the actual amount to be paid for the course, but unfortunately, we delayed and because of that we will not increase the fees. But, when we take on new students, we will do that.
As it is, we are actually running at a loss. When we started the course, a dollar was about N200, but now, it has skyrocketed to about N800 to a dollar. However, we are still charging them based on the old fee. Also then, aviation fuel was about N300 per litre, but now it is about N900 a litre. Everything has gone up.
Everything we have to import, including maintenance costs have gone up. If we have new students, it’s going to be new fees and we will not change it unless they finish the course.
How many instructors do you have in the school?
As of now, we have six qualified instructors and we are going to continue to train our instructors so that they will be ahead of the programme. Recall that this is a training institution. Two of our instructors are already in training.
One of them has gone to South Africa and returned, while the second will be going very soon. The remaining four instructors, we have paid their fees at the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria for upgrade training and they would come back after the training. Of course, they will go in batches.
How has government funding affected your performance?
We want to thank the state government led by Mr Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq. He has been doing a lot for us, he has always paid our subvention and salaries as and when due.
One of the slogans of this government is that it doesn’t play with civil servants’ salaries. Secondly, we requested for money from the state government and it granted it to us by October 2022 and we have used that money to buy spare parts for the aircraft. Some of the parts are here.
We also bought fuel, repaired the fuel dump and we used the remaining money to update some of our facilities in the school. So, the government has been doing a lot for us.
How many trainee aircraft and instructors does the college need to optimally train students?
Our programme for the flying instructors and the students is that we fly from 8am to 6pm. So, we have enough aircraft and enough instructors for the students that we have at the moment for our programme.
This is a training institution, you would expect that there would be some crashes, and incidents and we would need money to fix those aircraft. There are some of our equipment involved in accidents that are beyond repair. There are others that we can repair.
You can imagine one of the aircraft, we need about N150 million to fix it. So, if we have two of those aircraft, you are talking about N300 million to return them to use.
So, it would be selfish of us to ask the government to give us N300 million to fix our aircraft, whereas, there are 11 tertiary institutions that the government has to take care of. So, we are now thinking outside the box.
We know we need to generate money to help ourselves and not be totally dependent on the government. We are trying to get more courses in. As of now, we are doing flying and dispatch courses. We want to introduce cabin crew and engineering training.
Do you think a state government can effectively fund an aviation college?
This depends on how much money that state government has; I think a state government can fund an aviation college.
Like I said earlier, a training institution for aviation is like a taproot, which goes far into the ground, gets all the nutrients, and feeds the branches and others.
I think initially, when they started this college, they were doing very well. There was money, but this money trickled down and unfortunately, they were not able to cope. That is why they had some of their students that did not graduate at the right time.
How has the paucity of foreign exchange affected your operations?
We are not getting our foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). We are getting our forex from the second-tier market. Something that is just a hundred dollars will cost you N800,000.
So, it has been very expensive. Unfortunately, whatever money we have, we give it to them, they change it for us. Sometimes, the money that is given to us from the second-tier market may not be enough to do what we need to do. We need to do something to make sure that we get enough of what we need.
What led to the initial challenges that made students stay longer than necessary?
I was not here then, but I think what led to it was the COVID-19 pandemic. You still have some staff in the school that we still have to pay. I think that led to the extension of their stay at the school.
You said the fees would be reviewed when you have new intakes, how much do you think would be most appropriate?
Now, our school fee is about N12.5 million for piloting, and that is exactly what Zaria is charging. I learnt that Zaria has increased to about N17.5 million. We will not stop at N17 million because it is not adequate for us. We will go higher than that, but we have not determined how much our new fees would be.
Zaria gets subventions and grants from the federal government. Zaria also shares from the Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) and also from the Ticket/Cargo Sales Charge collected by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority. Ilorin doesn’t get anything from the federal government. Definitely, we will go higher than N17.5 million.
In South Africa, the training school charges about N28 million. This is exclusive of the airfares, accommodation and feeding for the duration of the course.
In America, it is about $40,000 and I have not converted that of the United Kingdom, but we are charging N12.5 million, which is nothing as everything we do in aviation is based on dollars; the equipment we are using is in dollars, spare parts are in dollars and even some of the instructors that are going to be foreign, they are going to ask for dollars. So, it is reasonable for us to increase our tuition fees.
We are begging the federal government to assist us. The government should know that we are training Nigerians that are going to work for the government and Nigerian airlines. I think it is just reasonable for the federal government to give us some allocations yearly.
Secondly, the federal government is giving some amount of money to private airlines to cushion the effect of COVID-19, inflation and others, but we are not getting any of these.
Thirdly, we pay customs duties on our imported parts and aircraft, I think the federal government should look into that and give us some relief. We should be exempted from customs duties and be given subventions or grants yearly.
We are training Nigerians, we are Nigerians and Kwara State is part of Nigeria. They should make us feel that we belong to Nigeria.