The world is ruled by ideas, with technology blazing the trail in all spheres of life in the 21st century. Aviation has demonstrated this with the travel world being ruled by fast-moving innovative technology especially in the area of aircraft building where the world has been enthralled by the high technology driven Dreamliner, B787 and others. You never can tell what the next generation of aircraft or aviation technology could be but sadly, all these are coming from the developed world while Nigeria and the rest of the third world countries take the back seat.
However, Telegraph reports that that may just change in the coming years as three young Nigerian aviators, who are currently undergoing training at the International College of Aeronautic (ICA) in Ojodu, Lagos, are on the verge of making history as the youngest aviators in the world to build an aircraft of any dimension.
The trio of Atinuke Fausat Idowu, 24, David Akinola Opateyibo, 19 and Michael Damilola Fakuade, 21, all of ICA, where the slogan is: Dream, Build, Fly and Fix it, with their guardian, Solomon Kolawole Adio, a pilot and maintenance engineer, who is the president and chief executive officer of the school, left Nigeria in the first week of May unsung and unnoticed to Mexico, Missouri, United States, to commence the tedious process of building a C750 two-seater air plane. They returned to the country on September 30 after spending five months in an aviation manufacturing factory (Zenith Aircraft Company, Mexico, Missouri), that is affiliated to the college where they were supervised by their guardian and supervisors from the company to put together the aircraft from start to finish.
For both the students and the aviation college, it has been a long and tortuous journey according to Adio, whose experience in aviation spans over 36 years, who worked as a pilot and in other areas of aviation in the US before returning to Nigeria. On returning to Nigeria, he discovered a lot of gaps in the industry, especially in the area of general aviation, which according to him, employs the highest number of labour while commercial activities (airlines operations), which appeared to be the only thriving area, employs marginal work force. Determined to change this situation, Adio five years ago set up the aviation college.
‘‘The idea of the school is to help the youth to become entrepreneurs instead of looking for jobs. Most schools nowadays train people and then you are on your own,’’ he says of his motivation for establishing the school. ‘‘In aviation, we have two types of activities. We have commercial activity, which is very popular in Nigeria, the airlines.
There is another branch called general aviation. It is where most jobs are created but Nigerians have not tapped into that. ‘‘When I first came, I saw that a lot of our airports are dormant. Only about four of them are actually serviceable and the reason is because we don’t encourage general aviation activities in the country.’’
To address this abnormality, he canvassed the introduction of general aviation activities that involve smaller planes. Besides, Adio also discovered the non-existence of air planes in the country. Hence the coming into being of ICA, where he has taken upon himself the task of training Nigerian youths on both commercial and general aviation activities. The school runs a month basic qualification programme after which a two year programme is undertaken before moving to the final two years for specialisation.
The trio of Idowu, Akinola and Damilola, in his words, have performed a great feat and put Nigeria on the global radar in aviation industry. ‘‘They are the first set and the aircraft that we have built is the first of its kind in Nigeria, nobody has done it. It is very historic,” Adio discloses. He further reveals that: ‘‘They were chosen after completing all the statutory requirements to go to that factory and we have already bought the parts and everything. That is why they stayed there for five months.’’
By April next year, the young aviators are expected back in the United States to complete the process. According to Adio, the next stage for them includes fixing the avionics and the certification process before they can finally fly the air plane to Nigeria. Describing the make of the aircraft, he says it is the type used for aviation training colleges and that ‘‘it can be adopted to other uses such as sightseeing, medical emergency, search and rescue. It can even be refitted to float in water, for news gathering, for shooting of film and even tourism. ‘‘One of the good things about this aircraft is that it has a very short take off distance. It doesn’t need that much distance to take off. It can even take off on the grass and anywhere.
‘‘It can go up to 30,000 feet, but usually we wouldn’t fly that high. What determines how high the aircraft can go is the engine. If you put a turbo charged engine you could even fly higher. ‘‘But again, there is a regulation, as anytime you fly beyond 15,000 feet, you must have oxygen. So why go up there when all you can see is cloud?’’ Therefore, this particular aircraft, he says has the regular engine.
‘‘It is the regular engine and one of the reasons why we chose this particular engine is that if you go to Nigeria College of Aviation and Technology (NCAT), Zaria, the usual engine they have use special fuel call halfgas ‘‘But halfgas is not in Nigeria. So, we have to buy an aircraft that uses engine that can use automotive fuel, which is something that you can find on the streets of Nigeria. That is one of advantages of what we built.’’ Adio is quite elated by this feat, as he states that: ‘‘It is the area of entrepreneurship that we want to introduce. Once we have the craft, then we can get the youth to get into this kind of business and get them empowered to reduce the unemployment rate.’’
Getting to this stage of his dream might be very difficult, as he speaks of the major obstacle on the way: ‘‘The aircraft is now built and now we have to bring the airplane to Nigeria. But here is the problem, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) does not have any regulation about building aircraft.’’ Although he reveals that talks are on between NCAA and his college on facilitating this process, however, if the Nigerian bureaucratic process is any indication then this may take years to accomplish. But for the trio aviators, they are in the clouds already, celebrating their feat as no one ever gave them the chance of coming this far. One thing that gladdens the heart about their historic feat is the fact that while unsung in Nigeria, Nigerians living in the US recognized their achievement and celebrated them before they jetted back to the country unnoticed.
DAVID AKINOLA OPATEYIBO
I want to see our country at par with other aviation industries
From Oyo State, he is the youngest of the trio, and appears quite intelligent and sure footed about his ability and the future that he is building. From a younger age, he says, ‘‘I have been interested in aviation for quite a long time. I was fascinated by birds, wondering how God created these animals to fly. ‘‘I used to make use of my daddy’s phone to make researches and so that got me into the building and manufacturing of drones and along the line I started building and flying drones. I was still in secondary school then. He schooled in Anglican Comprehensive High School, Awori, Ipaja, Lagos and during his SSS3, Adio and his team visited the school to give a talk on aviation unfortunately, Akinola, was not at school on the fateful day. But the mother, who was at the school at the time called to inform him of the visit and quickly he made his way to the school where he had engagement with the visiting team. ‘‘I met with the director and other officials from the college but one thing that caught my attention was that one of the instructors from the college had a drone with him and he asked me if I knew what it was and I said yes. ‘‘We spoke at length and he then gave me the opportunity to fly the drone and I flew it. I collected the contact of the school and went to my mum and said to her, ‘mum, this is the school that I want to go to.’ She said fine but you have to tell you dad. ‘‘So when I got home I told my dad about it and he gave his support. I got admitted into the school in late June 2015 and I did the pre-requisite programme, which was the basic aviation technology for one month. ‘‘After I passed the programme, I did a two year diploma course, which is called applied aviation science but because I was interested in aircraft maintenance technology, we had to do the maintenance and fleet specialty. ‘‘Initially I was not interested in becoming a pilot but along the line when we were doing the diploma programme I also became interested in the piloting aspect. ‘‘To meet up I had to enrol in an online ground school for piloting, which is affiliated to the college. So, I have got my Private Pilot ground school certificate and I also got my diploma certificate in applied aviation science. ‘‘At the time we got to the company we were used to some of the tools but at first it was not that daunting but what happened was that the scope of the project was not what we expected as we were used to smaller projects. ‘‘The building was fun and interesting and those that run the company where open minded and they supported us all throughout. Whenever we had problems they gave us all the support that we needed and that made the work flow very efficiently. ‘‘We faced a number of challenges, sometimes we missed up the parts but we had to figure it out ourselves. ‘‘I feel excited, it has been great, it has been interesting and we hope to complete the project next year. ‘‘I look forward to building more airplanes and I want to see our country develop, I want to see the aviation industry of our country at par with other aviation industries in the world. ‘‘My age is not a disadvantage and I don’t feel intimidated in anyway. I am glad pushing my passion and my message to Nigerian youths is that whatever you find to do that is good they should make sure that they do it with commitment, and one thing is that perseverance is key in anything that you want to achieve.” He expressed appreciation to Adio, who he says gave all the push and encouragement for them to move ahead. He is also grateful to his parents for supporting his passion.
ATINUKE FAUSAT IDOWU
I feel so great and excited that I’m making a positive impact
She is in her third year at the college, educated at Ansar Rul Deen Girls High School, Falolu. She holds Ordinary Diploma in Science Laboratory Technology from Abraham Adesanya Polytechnic in Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State. Her motivation for going into aviation was the magical and enchanting nature of the air plane and her curiosity. ‘‘I was motivated by big plane engine, wondering what can make this big airplane to fly and sustain that ability and carry a lot of people. ‘‘For me to know what gives it that capability I needed to go into aviation to be enlightened and know more about it,’’ she says. The 2015 graduate says: ‘‘I have not been to the airport before but I see aircraft in movies, news bulletins and when I see such gigantic aircrafts, I am always amazed and stunned by them.’’ Idowu as a female could had chosen less tedious and more fanciful aspect of aviation, however, she reveals that: ‘‘I decided to go into Aircraft Building Engineering Technology because I see it as an interesting area and we don’t have so many females in aviation. I wanted to do something that is different and motivate more females to come into aviation. ‘‘It has been great so far and we had the opportunity to put into practice the theory that we were taught in the classroom. Put into use all the principles, the operating principles behind aircraft making.
‘‘When we got to the factory they gave us the blueprint and materials to couple the aircraft, with the little experience that we had in school it was very easy for us to assemble the aircraft following the guideline. ‘‘The three of us worked together and we had others or supervisors in the factory and whenever we had difficulties we called on them and they gave us assistance. “It was challenging though we had the blueprint and manner. I feel so great and excited because I think that I am making a positive impact. I look forward to continuing to build aircrafts and to make it a source of employment, like entrepreneurship and empowerment in Nigeria. ‘‘My message to Nigerian youths is that whatever we are doing we should be focused and when we are focused, determined and put our minds in whatever we are doing, success will actually come.’’ Although as the only female in the team, she sometimes felt intimidated, she remained undaunted even she confessed receiving tremendous encouragement and support from the two young boys. ‘‘Sometimes they do but because I know what I wanted to achieve I didn’t allow that and I had to push myself and show my ability and skill. It was fun working with them and they made me feel like a male. ‘‘The future is to see the aviation industry becoming a big one in Nigeria and create opportunities for everyone.’’ Her pillar of support has been her parents, Adio and the Lagos Central Mosque, which donated N1 million towards her trip to the US.
MICHAEL DAMILOLA FAKUADE
I am very proud of what I have done
He appears to be the most outgoing and exposed of the trio. He is from Ekiti State and lived in Yaba area of Lagos where his daily encounters with youths engaged in drugs and other social misdemeanours as a result of unemployment, drove him to seek solace in the aviation world. ‘‘Where I reside in Yaba, I see a lot of young guys into drugs, with everybody on the streets shouting about the government and no one ready to do anything. ‘‘Therefore, I decided to come into aviation to see what I could do to help Nigerian youths. I finished from Federal Government College, Ijanikin, Lagos.
‘‘I did my one month programme and then went into aircraft building because this will create more jobs for Nigeria. ‘‘It wasn’t a smooth ride because whenever I tell anyone that I am into aviation they will ask if I am going to be a pilot and I will say no, I am building an aircraft and they will express disbelief that no, it can’t happen, that is a lie, not in Nigeria. ‘‘I would say to them that it is not a big airplane but a smaller one but they would retort that whether a big or small- er aircraft it can never happen in Nigeria. And that if you build it nobody will fly it in Nigeria. It has been a very rough road because even people at the airport don’t believe us because we do go there and a lot of them would say that we are crazy, that we are not doing anything and that we should leave the school.
‘‘Then we would go back to Mr. Adio and he would talk to us and encourage us, telling us to apply our minds to what we are doing and that everybody is not going to appreciate what we are doing but that we should remain focused. ‘‘Now I can say I am very proud of what I have done because nobody can come and tell me anything to the contrary now. I know what I went to do in the United States was not just a day job. ‘‘It was easy because they had all the tools and those tools that we didn’t know how to use they gave us the guidelines on how to use them and it was. My parents have been supportive of my training.’’