The number of expatriate pilots working for airlines in the country has maintained a steady drop in the last three years.
Data obtained from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority shows that the number of licensed non-Nigerian pilots in the country is currently 463.
According to the data, 85 others have validation certificates, bringing the number of foreign pilots working in Nigeria to 548.
Between 2016 when there were 631 pilots and the current 548, there has been a 13.15 per cent decrease.
The trend which began in 2016 saw the number drop to 609 between 2017 and 2018, despite the fact that the total number of licensed pilots operating in the country increased from 2, 226 in 2016 to 2,356 in 2017 and 2018.
The latest decrease however affected the total number of pilots operating in the country which is currently 2, 307.
Some aviation analysts said one of the reasons for the drop was the depleting fleet of airlines in the country.
Others said the major reason was the depreciating value of the naira which had made airlines to consider creating employment for indigenous pilots rather than increase expenses with expatriate salaries and emoluments.
According to an aviation analyst, Olumide Ohunayo, the weakness of the naira against the dollar is heavily impacting on domestic airline operations.
He said, “Pilots are paid in foreign currency and the weakening naira has made it unprofitable for domestic airlines to keep expatriates at this time.
“Again, we don’t really have aircraft coming in; there has been a lull in aircraft coming into the country.”
Findings show that most scheduled domestic airlines in the country currently employ between 85 and 95 per cent indigenous pilots.
There have been calls in various quarters for domestic airlines to engage more Nigerians as pilots, considering the rising number of unemployed pilots.
The Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria and the International Aviation College, Ilorin, which are renowned for pilots’ training in Nigeria, jointly produce between 20 and 30 pilots annually.
It is estimated that close to 600 Nigerian pilots are currently unemployed or engaged in vocations other than their trained field.
Another aviation analyst, Tayo Ojuri, said apart from the reduced number of aircraft, some airlines such as Air Peace, were out to reduce unemployment by engaging more of indigenous pilots.
He said, “Fleet has reduced which is a challenge, meaning that the number of pilots that will be engaged by airlines will also reduce.
“Again, Air Peace has a goal of encouraging domestic pilots; it is part of their mission statement since they have the biggest fleet. Aero and Arik also have a huge number of Nigerian pilots.”
Ohunayo said the unemployment rate among Nigerian pilots was so high that even if all the expatriates disappeared from the industry, there would still be many indigenous pilots without jobs.
“States and organisations have been sponsoring candidates for training without making provision for them to fly which is why after the training, a lot of them don’t do what they are trained to do,” he added.
He stated that adequate plans had not been made to provide jobs for those that had been trained and others currently undergoing training.