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Made in Nigeria, enjoyed worldwide | TheCable

Have you flown an aircraft before? I just did. At the first attempt, I was nervous and crashed as I tried to take off. I laughed, shrugged and gave it another try. At the second attempt, my instructor was more than impressed with my lift-off. He confessed this was a rare feat for a novice. We were soon on autopilot. But I don’t know what took over me: I was suddenly in panic mode and started imploring him to land us quickly. (Waziri Adio, my co-pilot, later reminded me that I am acrophobic — someone with excessive fear of heights). Waziri took command and made an impressive approach to landing, but he descended too fast and crashed. We laughed it off as we disembarked.

“How I wish that in real life, you could crash an aircraft and start laughing, and everybody would walk out of the wreckage without a scratch,” I told Captain Kunmi Ojediji, the instructor. He laughed. The experience felt so real — it was as if I was actually in the air. That was why I panicked. Mr Olabode Makanjuola, the executive vice-chairman and CEO of Caverton Offshore Support Group Plc, also had a good laugh. But he had other reasons to be happy. This is Caverton’s brand-new Reality H full-flight simulator, configured for the AW139 helicopter, the dominant aircraft in its fleet which can fly 12 passengers at full speed. The simulator can be retrofitted to serve other aircraft types.

The helicopter level D full-flight simulator — the first and only of its kind in the whole of Africa — is located at Caverton’s new training centre at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos. The construction of the facility, which also houses the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) hangar, started in 2017 and has survived economic downturn and the pandemic to see the light of the day. For a company that commenced operations in 1999 to provide aviation and marine logistics services to businesses in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria and across West Africa, the addition of training and maintenance services to its portfolio represents a landmark leap.

Maintenance and training are major cost centres in the aviation industry. Pilots are expected to do at least two type rating trainings yearly. Those who fly more than one aircraft type do more (two each year for each type). Caverton saw the gap and has diversified while maintaining its core business. Last year, Mr Aderemi Muyinudeen Makanjuola, the chairman of Caverton Offshore Support Group Plc, told me something big was cooking at the group’s new 40,000sqm facility and asked me to do a tour. I had been looking forward to it so I could share my experience, but my work and travel schedule had been very tight. I finally created time on Thursday. I was glad I did.

I toured the hangar and training centre. Apart from catering to Caverton’s own fleet of 28 aircraft, the MRO also does maintenance for third parties, including notably the government of Republic of Benin. Also, unlike in the past when certain types of aircraft had to be crated and shipped abroad for maintenance, Caverton can now do the entire overhaul locally. The MRO can handle all the checks — A, B and C. They can dismantle, repair and reassemble aircraft. Olabode, the CEO, told me that they are currently focusing on rotary wings but hope to expand to fixed wings later. They stock parts from original equipment manufacturers and are hoping to have a stock of at least $5 million, he said.

This maintenance turn-around time is further expedited by the location of an export free zone and bonded terminal within the facility. The hassles of ports processes and customs clearances have been abridged and this means a lot for MRO. More so, a maintenance that could take up to four months to do abroad can now be done locally in three weeks. The facility is equipped with all the needed manpower and tooling. The CEO said it now costs roughly 40 percent less to do maintenance locally compared to going abroad. They are focusing on rotary wings for now, but they hope to expand to fixed wings later, which means extending MRO services to virtually every type of aircraft.

But the sweetest part for me is that the facility also serves clients from outside Nigeria. I just love it. You may not understand me. When I started writing the series on “Made in Nigeria, Enjoyed Worldwide” in 2005, my aim was to celebrate, from time to time, the good things coming out of our beloved country in spite of our poor image. I expressed a desire that one day, “Made in Nigeria” would be enjoyed “around the world”. I celebrated the feats of Dr Mike Adenuga’s Globacom, which was breaking new grounds in Nigeria. I desired to see Glo all over Africa and worldwide. I hoped to see Dangote spaghetti in European supermarkets. I wished to see Zenon computers globally.

Along the line, Nigeria got overwhelmed by political and security challenges and my enthusiasm dwindled. But, thank God, “Made in Nigeria” did not dwindle. Against all odds, our fintech companies such as Interswitch, Paystack, Flutterwave and Systemspecs are flourishing at the speed of light. Mrs Amina Mohammed at the UN, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at WTO, and Dr Akinwumi Adesina at AfDB are flying our flag high. Our Afrobeats artistes are setting the world on fire — and with plenty awards to boot. In the midst of the ocean of negative news about terrorists, bandits, criminal herdsmen, secessionists and economic hardship, any bit of good news would do for me.

Another sweet part of the Caverton story for me is the foreign exchange angle. For those interested in the gospel of conserving forex, this offers some comfort. Although the spare parts are produced and shipped from abroad by the manufactures, certain forex expenses are eliminated, such as travels and associated costs. For the training centre, Nigerians often go for flight training abroad, at almost always fully booked facilities. They could be allotted 2am slots for flight lessons and under weather conditions that are not similar to Nigeria’s. We have two seasons while many countries have four. Plus, add the costs of foreign trips to train or retrain pilots abroad. It is not chicken feed.

“We used to spend $3 million yearly training our own pilots abroad,” the Caverton chairman told me over the phone after my tour. “Cost of training, tickets, accommodation, logistics and all. That is eliminated now.” That may sound like a good development to him, but Nigerians do not joke with their dollarised allowances, so they may not be excited. They wouldn’t mind training at 2am in Dubai and under strange weather conditions as long as they would be able to smile to the bureau de change on their return. Jokes apart, I am happy that we are seriously building local capacity. “With our facilities,” the chairman said, “we will be earning forex as clients come from all over Africa.”

Already, the MRO and the training centre are providing services to the Nigerian…

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