The amoured cars scandal dominated most of the media this week, but the other issues facing aviation sector in this country are equally overwhelming.
First, early last week, Dana Air was indefinitely grounded for mere safety-oriented professional decisions (two aborted trips). These safety precautions were termed unacceptable by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). Early this week, IRS Airlines, Chanchangi, First Nation and Allied Air were also grounded indefinitely for what the NCAA considered a breach of Air Operating Certificate (AOC) agreement. According to the regulatory agency, an AOC holder must, at all times, have two serviceable airplanes in its fleet.
This is quite contrary to what the Civil Aviation Act 2006 stipulates, the law simply requires that an applicant for an AOC for schedule operation must, at the time of such an application, have two aircraft in its fleet to be included in the operational specification. There is no mention in the act that an air operator cannot send one of the airplanes for maintenance, while the other is operational, this ambiguity in the interpretation of an AOC's responsibility has given the NCAA absolute power to ground, at will, any airline the agency deems fit to strangulate.
It is unrealistic in every sense of aviation business to halt an airline's operation because the carrier is left with one serviceable airplane, what economic consideration does the NCAA allocate to the owners of the business if their offence is that an airplane, which is due for maintenance, is promptly sent abroad to get repaired or inspected? Therefore, if one of the two airplanes is grounded due to maintenance, the other aircraft must be grounded by regulatory default?
This callous, barbaric, undue pressure from the NCAA must be explained to all AOC applicants prior to the issuance of such a licence, because I can bet my soul that those who still want to waste their precious, hard-earned money would think twice before investing in aviation in Nigeria.
How can anyone, in his rational state of mind, render his fellow citizens jobless in this economic crunch? It's really strange that airlines in this country, with huge financial burden be put out of business for such a flimsy reason. It's sad, very sad, that a few kitchen cabinet members of the NCAA would nurse such uneconomical punishment on investors/employers of labour.
Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) recently bailed out Chanchangi and IRS airlines, a deal worth billions of naira. With indefinite suspension hanging over these carriers, it's obvious that none of them will be able to pay back a portion of the loan anytime soon. However, no matter how low the interest rate is, it will keep accumulating against the airlines until repayment becomes impossible.
I have always said in this column that the greatest threat to aviation growth in Nigeria is government. Draconian policies aimed at killing airline business are pronounced every now and then, without foresight of the dire consequences.
Less than 24 hours after Dana Air's sentence, the owners of the company appropriately sent all of its staff on indefinite suspension without pay. The 600-plus employees of the airline are right now at home, with guaranteed unemployment certificate.
Similarly, Chanchangi, IRS, and Allied airlines followed the same pattern: compulsory leave without pay for another group of over 1,000 workers. These people have joined the over-saturated unemployment market in Nigeria.
From the forgoing, a single senseless policy has sent 1,600 Nigerians into a state of despondency/hopelessness.
This is not to mention how many people will be affected in other sectors of our economy due to derived multiplier effect. The financial sector will obviously feel the brunt more than the others. Guaranteed loans to the airlines will definitely end up in red on their ledger cards. What a shame!
Earlier in the year, a senseless draconian policy was orchestrated in the system: those with private jet would only be allowed to carry relatives with similar last name. The overwhelming public outrage saved the situation, and the policy got truncated in the process.
In less than two years, the NCAA has witnessed the influx of over 100 managerial staff. These new employees, the majority of whom are from a particular ethnic group, are graduates of non-aviation-related fields. They are employed as ramp inspectors --- a serious designation for qualified aircraft engineers and pilots. This single action on the part of the minister of aviation has diluted the core professional standards of the regulatory agency. The majority of the old hands (inspectors/surveyors), who are disenchanted with the way the system is being polluted, have voluntarily resigned or have made plans to leave the sector.
It baffles my soul to think back to the year 2008 when the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) was audited by the International Aviation Safety Assessment Agency (IASA), and was found competent in its safety oversight of our carriers, and; based on that, we were granted Category 1 status.
There is nothing more dangerous in aviation than incompetent aircraft inspectors or engineers. The NCAA, the pillar of aviation safety oversight in the country, has lost its structure and may never be the same again, if the federal government allows this rot to continue.