Nigerian airlines operating commercial flights to the United States of America may lose this privilege if the ministerial committee on the review of national aviation laws succeeds in its attempt to get the National Assembly to amend the Nigerian Civil Aviation Act.
Former President Umaru Yar'Adua had fought a long and hard battle to get the country's civil aviation law in tune with international standards, make the civil aviation authority autonomous and subsequently get the United States to certify the country as safe.
However, LEADERSHIP findings reveal that the minister of aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, has already appointed a ministerial committee saddled with the responsibility of coming up with suggestions that could lead to a review affecting the autonomy of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) through the amendment of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Act.
LEADERSHIP can authoritatively report that the ministerial committee is already in the process of consulting with "stakeholders in the aviation industry towards addressing the salient issues relating to the growth and the need for a reformed legislation" for the NCAA. The committee is scheduled to meet this week in Abuja.
The late President Yar'Adua, in his efforts to ensure that Nigeria received the FAA/DOT Category 1 certification, which made it possible for Nigerian air carriers to apply to operate to the United States with their own aircraft, had written a letter of comfort to the US government in which he gave the assurance that the NCAA would have the full responsibility and powers for air safety oversight in the country in line with international standards.
Specifically, Yar'Adua gave assurance that Nigeria was in the process of amending the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) Act 1999, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) Act 1996 and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) Act 2003, to bring them in conformity with the Civil Aviation Act 2006 and to remove any ambiguity concerning the NCAA.
"All regulatory powers previously exercised by NAMA, FAAN and NIMET have been effectively transferred to NCAA. I further give assurance that pending the finalisation of the review, the NCAA shall continue to have full and unfettered authority for regulatory oversight of the entire aviation industry, as required by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)," Yar'Adua had stated in a letter to the US president George W. Bush in 2008. It was on the basis of this understanding that the US Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in 2010, granted Nigeria Category 1 rating under the FAA's International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) programme, which means that Nigeria complied with international safety standards set by the (ICAO).
Bellview on AIB
Meanwhile, Bellview Airlines has accused the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) of doctoring the report of the accident investigation involving its Boeing737-200 plane with registration number 5N-BFN at Lisa, Ogun State, with the ulterior motive of abandoning further investigation to find out the true cause of the accident.
Reporting on the Bellview crash, AIB had indicted the airline over the airworthiness of its aircraft and safety oversight of the crew. Specifically, though AIB said there was no conclusive evidence to explain the cause of the accident involving Bellview Airlines Flight 210, the report said the Bellview aircraft was defective and should not have been released to fly, training of the pilot-in-command of the Boeing 737 aircraft was inadequate, while the cumulative flight hours of the pilot in the days before the accident showed excessive workload.
However, Bellview insisted that the report was doctored, accusing the AIB of allowing internal politics to affect the outcome of the accident investigation report.
"We remain absolutely committed to finding the true cause of this tragic accident through open and transparent process as we have nothing to hide. We, however, DO NOT agree with the findings and conclusions of the AIB. AIB allowed internal politics within it to distort and biased their interpretation of the material facts of the accident.
"This doctored report is geared to make Bellview the scapegoat with the ulterior motive of abandoning further investigation to find the true cause of the accident. AIB stated in its report that the true cause of the sad accident is still unknown and still went ahead to make speculative allusions. Accident report should be factual and not speculative about the cause of the accident," said Bellview in a statement signed by Terver-Uzer Luke from its corporate affairs unit.
A letter from the US FAA announcing Nigeria's certification had emphasised that an IASA Category 1 rating means a country has the laws and regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, and that its civil aviation authority - equivalent to the FAA for aviation safety matters - meets international standards for technical expertise, trained personnel, recordkeeping and inspection procedures.
With plans underway to amend the NCAA Act, analysts believe there is no way its responsibilities and powers of regulatory oversight of the entire aviation industry would not be tinkered with, a situation that may lead to the U.S withdrawing Nigeria's Category 1 certification, thus forcing Nigerian carriers out of operations in the US.
However, the Ministry of Aviation maintains that though it cannot pre-empt what those reviewing the laws will come up with, its intention is not to tamper with the autonomy of the NCAA. Special assistant to the aviation minister on media Mr Joe Obi, when asked if the NCAA would still retain its autonomy after the review, said the continued autonomy of the NCAA is crucial to the regulation of aviation and air safety in Nigeria.
Obi, who spoke in a telephone conversation with LEADERSHIP, said: "I can't say what the outcome of the review would be until those who are reviewing the NCAA Act complete their work. Although we do not know what the outcome of the review would be, we would want to note that the autonomy of the NCAA is crucial to the effective regulation of the industry and air safety in Nigeria.
Recall that as part of country's preparation for the attainment of the US FAA/DOT CAT 1 Status, a team from the FAA had undertaken a technical review of the activities of the NCAA from July 2007. At the end of the visit, the team made the following observations and findings: that the Civil Aviation Act 2006 conferred autonomy and powers to make safety regulations on the NCAA and that certain provisions of the NAMA and FAAN Establishment Acts contained provisions that may conflict with the regulatory and rule-making powers of NCAA as contained in Section 30 of the CAA 2006.
"Accordingly, the team recommended the amendment of the NAMA and FAAN Establishment Acts to remove the conflict areas and to harmonise the two regulations with the CAA 2006.
"The team had also requested an irrevocable letter of comfort from the then president, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, to the effect that, pending the review of the NAMA and FAAN Acts, the autonomy of NCAA and its rule-making powers shall be guaranteed and sustained by the Nigerian government."
All efforts to get NCAA officials to comment on how the planned review of its Act may affect this certification proved abortive.