30 January 2013

Nigeria: The New Regulations in Aviation Sector


Two new sets of regulations are emerging in the aviation sector of the country. One has placed a temporary ban on the acquisition of private jets pending when the federal government would fine-tune a new policy on the acquisition of private airplanes, helicopters and other lighter aircraft. Before now, the industry has made limited progress in terms of growth and investment opportunities.

Acquisition of private jets, for instance, has been on the increase within the last three years and Nigerians are said to have invested more than N1.3 trillion in acquiring private jets within this period. This in itself has both its pros and cons. But since we operate a free-market economy, it would amount to an infringement on the constitutional right to own property if such ban was real in Nigeria.

Policies could be changed when they become jaded or inconsistent with global realities, but not in a way to hinder investment and deny people their basic rights. The number of airlines operating in the sector has also geometrically increased, thereby bringing more Nigerians out of the job market; this should be encouraged.

The other regime of "regulations" was reeled out by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is aimed at updating the provisions of the Civil Aviation Act 2006. These affect nine critical areas in their aviation oversight: aerodrome, air Navigation Services, safe transport of dangerous goods, environmental protection, aviation security, economic, consumer protection and appeals, citation, repeals and offences.

They were issued "in conformity with standard and recommended practices contained in the annexes to the Chicago Convention", according to the NCAA's director general, Dr Harold Demuren. The July 2009 Nigerian version of the convention covered only areas of aviation practices, while aspects dealing with the aerodrome and consumers rights were neglected.

This development is ordinarily commendable. But it is trite to say that the problem with air safety and aircraft worthiness is beyond laws and regulations. It is about compliance and scrupulous enforcement and application. Domesticating international aviation laws must be matched with the will to operate in the spirit and letter of global best practices.

The NCAA ought to have learnt a lesson or two from the way the Dreamliner aircraft was grounded by aviation regulators in Europe, United States, Japan, Qatar and even in Ethiopia, despite the aircraft's global acclaim as a state-of-the-art flying machine. Its approval rating did not sway the regulators and manufacturers from admitting the challenges of oil leak, cracked engines, damaged cockpit window and battery problem. No one spoke about "managing" them because human lives are involved.

Similarly, the prompt management of what would have been a tragedy of monumental proportion during the rush hour in London was recently averted when an Agusta 109 civilian helicopter hit the crane on top of a building in Vauxhall. Unfortunately, Nigeria's crisis-control mechanism is so frustratingly non-existent that not many will be impressed with these new rules of the NCAA.

We need to restore confidence in our domestic operations, such that all stakeholders and agencies collaborate to forestall the unnecessary waste of human lives and carnage now associated with flying in the Nigerian airspace. Regulations and policies are good but the will to execute these is better. The new regulations would not cease to be more than mere nebulous words charitably crafted on a piece of paper, if our aviation regulators continued ambling on with their unimaginative attitude and corrupt tendencies.

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