1 February 2013

Nigeria: Foreign Pilots in Nigeria Face Challenges in Domestic Operation

There are indications that foreign pilots who operate scheduled commercial service in Nigeria may face the challenge of understanding the environment.

Events over the years show that indigenous pilots show better understanding in the face of emergency than their foreign counterparts.

This explained why the National Association of Pilots and Engineers (NAPE) in its recommendation during the public hearing of the Dana Air flight J9 992 crash in Lagos last June, said the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should extend the time for their training at the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology, Zaria (NCAT) when they come to provide their service in Nigeria.

NAPE believed that the training would familiarise them with the terrain they would operate in and experts believe that besides following his checklist, the pilot of the ill-fated Flight J9 992 had options to return to Abuja airport, land at Ibadan airport or at Ilorin airport.

It is also believed that some of them come with questionable certificates which must be scrutinised by the airlines that employ them.

Aviation consultant and CEO of Belujane Konsult, Chris Aligbe, said that even if the airlines did not scrutinise and confirmed their certificates, NCAA must do that and the agency does that as part of its approval process.

He noted that not knowing the operational environment could be a challenge and safety issue to the foreign pilot, there was the need for him to know the terrain he is operating in.

"The major problem with foreign pilots is that they don't understand the environment. That Dana Air crash is pilot's error. I said it recently that the pilot should not have been rostered; he was travelling that night. So his business was to come into Lagos and that was why he did not return to Abuja because the incident started 17 minutes after take-off, when the first engine packed up. He should have made an air return or go to Ilorin. All that he wanted to do was to manage until he got into Lagos because he would leave that night."

Although the airspace has improved now in terms of communication and surveillance, when it was in its worst state, it was the dexterity of the indigenous pilots and foreign pilots familiar with the terrain that ensured safe operations over the years, in spite of the accidents that took place during those periods.

"I am more at home in our own terrain with Nigerian pilots who know the terrain. When the chips are down a pilot that understands the environment will do what he should do in tandem with the environment. The environment is quite critical.

"They are subjected to training at NCAT but it is usually a short term. Pilots and engineers in NAPE said they should be subjected to longer periods of training so that they will understand the environment. That was their recommendation during the hearing of the Dana Air crash," Aligbe said.

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