With the appointment of a new Director General for the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, industry stakeholders are demanding the consolidation of air safety and autonomy of the agency.
The federal government two weeks ago appointed a new Director General for the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu. This was after the tenure of Captain Muhtar Usman came to an end.
Nuhu is a consummate aviator who has many years experience as pilot, safety expert and a quality assurance lead auditor. Until his appointment he was Nigeria's Permanent Representative to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
He holds MSc Degree in aviation business and was at the Presidential Air Fleet as a Captain and a safety officer; he also worked at various times at the defunct Nigeria Airways, Aero Contractors and Petrowest among other organisations.
Nuhu was also the Chairperson Comprehensive Regional Aviation Safety Plan for Africa and Indian Ocean (AFI Plan) at the ICAO headquarters in Montreal, responsible for safety, air navigation, airports and aviation infrastructure development, an experience that is expected to be of great value to his new role as a regulator of the nation's aviation industry.
Industry stakeholders see him as a round peg in a round hole, stressing that his being technical adviser to the present Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, his foray in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and experience as Nigerian representative in ICAO has given him the administrative clout he needs to effectively manage NCAA.
Industry consultant and CEO of Belujane Konsult, Chris Aligbe, told THISDAY, that Nuhu is well qualified to be the Director General of NCAA, noting that he has more than requisite exposure in the regulatory system as a pilot, technical adviser to the Minister, Nigerian representative in ICAO, "so he is not coming from any questionable level of knowledge."
"Nuhu has been within the same system. He knows his duty in terms of regulation. He has to build on the advancement already made by his predecessors. Usman built on the achievement of his predecessor, Dr Harold Demuren; Nuhu has to build on the achievements of Usman. So Nuhu has a foundation; he has to add his own blocks to the building," Aligbe said.
With the 2006 Civil Aviation Act, the empowerment of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority was not only limited to the regulation of aviation safety, devoid of political interference, but it was also empowered to carry out certain oversight functions within the Nigerian airports, and airspace, and meteorological services, among others, including economic regulations of the aviation industry in Nigeria.
One of the major functions of NCAA is to regulate the activities of airlines for the safety and comfort of the flying members of the public. Therefore, regulation of the safety of aircraft operations in Nigeria remained one major functions of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.
Experts have noted that the functions of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority is not limited to the safety of aircraft operations regulation, its function goes as far as, regulating the air navigation, as well as, regulation of aerodrome operations.
"It also monitors the operating environment that aircraft operate. Such monitoring services ensure that operators in the Nigerian aviation industry comply with the laid down standard of operations. NCAA has undertaken a broad range of functions, and one of those functions has been to regulate good conduct of air transport business in Nigeria," stakeholders have noted.
Such regulation must ensure proper navigation within the airports. Methods of entry and every business in the airport that involved air transportation remained the function of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, and it must make sure that these activities are well regulated to give room for the proper conduct of air transportation business in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority is also expected to advise the Aviation' Ministry on policy formulation. It ought to ensure the balancing of the economic interest of operators and the balancing of the economic interest of the users of aviation services, and the balancing of the economic interest of the general public, including that of the Nigerian nation.
The major responsibility of NCAA, industry observers added, is the development of manpower; so NCAA is expected to engage continuously in staff training for the purpose of upgrading their knowledge and skills and this forms part of the organisation's priority.
Many industry observers have noted that the Minister of Aviation, especially the Minister has eroded many of these responsibilities, but NCAA has over the years, since 2006 maintained efficient safety regulation of the industry. However, industry experts are of the view that NCAA is not effectively regulating other agencies in the industry like the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), as enshrined in the 2006 Civil Aviation Act, as amended.
For example, NCAA ought to review and approve charges introduced by FAAN and NAMA but most of the time it is the Minister that endorses that, thus usurping the responsibility of the regulatory agency.
Former Managing Director of Capital Airlines and industry consultant with Etimfri Group, Amos Akpan told THISDAY that there are many areas in the aviation sector where NCAA ought to spread its regulatory tentacles but currently neglected.
"The inbound cargo by foreign airlines should concern NCAA. Why? Cargo forms part of the traffic regulated under bilateral air services agreement. It is covered under the layers of freedom of carriage; therefore, charges and fees for reciprocity should apply," he said.
Akpan, also suggested that NCAA should pay more attention to developing maintenance facility in Nigeria, noting that airlines would cut cost on maintenance if they conduct checks on their aircraft locally. In addition, he said that the regulatory agency should pay attention to the operations of handling companies and regularly observes flight safety.
"Nigerian airlines training in NCAA approved training organisations (ATO) in Nigeria will help to cut cost for them. So the agency should encourage local maintenance facility.
"It should intensify the certification and regulation of airports, fuel suppliers, and aviation handling companies and ensure compliance by all operators. It should engage in frequent observation flights by safety inspectors to keep operators in check," Akpan advised.
He said the physical presence of engineering inspectors in the line of maintenance ensures compliance of maintenance procedures to approved manual, remarking that notice of non-compliance, issuance of deadline to rectify the fault, and follow up to ensure compliance, is better than shutting down the airline's operations.
"NCAA must gain the trust of operators so that they can get accurate data, get on time report of incidents. It would be good if airlines voluntarily file monthly data as their obligation with NCAA without concealment. Most importantly, NCAA must reduce the response time to operator's requests and enquiries; reduce the time it takes to secure approvals, inspections, certifications, and verifications," Akpan said.
He emphasised that bureaucratic delay depletes resources, stagnates investments, and discourages operators.
"The licensing and certification of an operator should be the first phase, ensuring the operator sustains safe and profitable operations should be key to NCAA. NCAA should regulate for existence not regulate to delete. To ensure compliance to regulations does not mean you regulate operators out of existence," he added.
Many airline operators and other stakeholders had accused NCAA of over-regulating the airlines. In fact, there was a recent report where a senior official in the Air Worthiness Directorate of the agency was alleged to have said that a particular airline must be made to go under because it was rising too fast. This had prompted industry operatives to be apprehensive of some of the conducts of officials of the agency.
Staff Morale and Excesses
A senior director in a sister agency, told THISDAY that some senior officials in NCAA should be more professional in the way they conduct their activities, remarking that some of these officials ought to have left the agency.
He insisted that the new Director General would become overwhelmed by, "these arrogant officers and if not careful they may not allow him to do his job well."
The official who had worked many years in NCAA said that to boost staff morale, the new Director General should improve workers condition of service, carry out promotion of those due and improve the relationship between the directors and the Director General.
"He needs to be careful with Air Worthiness and Operations officials. Some people there need to be fired. Then he will have to empower the regional branches of the agency and rebuild the regional offices that are dilapidated. The new Director General must rebuild the relationship between Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) and NCAA," he said.
The officer also advised that although air transport is highly regulated the NCAA should ensure that airlines are encouraged to operate profitably; that it should be more engaging and it should also improve the communication between it and the airlines.
"We really need younger people in operation. Right now those officials in operation are the clogs in the wheel of progress. So NCAA should train more people. I know that there is backlog of training. NCAA ought to spend about 80 per cent of its resources on training. I also wish to point out that NCAA over charges airlines on aircraft inspection," he added.
The Director of Engineering, Ibom Air, Lukeman Animaseun, also told THISDAY that the appointment of Nuhu at the expiration of Captain Usman's tenure was a very good decision by the federal government, noting that the new Director General would need to be up and doing, making sure he consolidates on the gains already achieved.
"He has to stamp his authority, embark on the training of NCAA staff and also ensure the implementation of AIB recommendations," he said.
On his part, the CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, said the NCAA must carry out some reforms and focus more on economic regulation. He remarked that NCAA should find a way to review downwards the charges FAAN and NAMA level on airlines, saying that this would enable the airlines to survive.
Sanusi also noted that part of the responsibility of NCAA is to ensure the survival of airlines.
"NCAA should ensure airlines survive. It should encourage new entrants and also ensure that existing ones are growing. NCAA should regulate FAAN and NAMA on charges and advise government on how the agencies can tax the airlines without the aim to make profit but on cost recovery basis," Sanusi said.
It is expected that after screening and endorsement by the Senate, the new Director General would take over from the acting Director General, Captain Abdullahi Sidi, who is currently holding sway in the agency.