Nigeria: Olateru - Agent of Change in AIB

17 January 2020

Aircraft Accident Investigation (AIB) is a big business in global aviation industry. Managing a body responsible for carrying out this function requires a serious-minded and an astute administrator. Engr. Akin Olateru, the Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Accident Investigation Bureau is a typical example of the maxim "a round peg in a round hole."

In Just 36 months in office, he has turned around the fortune of the hitherto obscure bureau and made it one of the most competitive agencies not just in Nigeria, but in the global aviation industry.

The Bureau's core function is to investigate aircraft accidents or serious incidents with a view to preventing future recurrence of similar accident or incident. This function is not effectively carried out if the report is not released to the public and the safety recommendations made available to the stakeholders. Today, AIB can boast of being aligned to its core mandate. Thanks to the emergence of a purposeful leadership in this important agency.

AIB today has formed massive symbiotic relationship, partnership and collaboration with organisations that matter most in the sector and beyond - the United States' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Transport Safety Board, the independent US government investigative agency responsible for civil transport accident investigation, Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) of United Kingdom, Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'aviation civile (BEA- France), University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), University of Lagos (UNILAG), Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) from Singapore and the Banjul Accord Group Accident Investigation Agency (BAGAIA), an arm of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to mention just a few.

Though, with the paltry three per cent of the Ticket Sales Charge (TSC) receives from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) by the bureau, it was obvious the sum could not enable AIB to attain its desired dream, Olateru wore his thinking cap and devised a new mean for AIB to stay afloat, relevant and competitive among other five agencies in the ministry and the aviation industry in general. Today, proven professionals in the sector are hitching to work in AIB.

When Olateru came onboard in 2017, he expressed dismay at the late release of accident reports by the bureau that was set up in 2007 primarily to investigate any civil aircraft accident and serious incident arising out of, or in the course of air navigation occurring either in or over Nigeria or occurring to Nigeria aircraft elsewhere with the fundamental objective of the bureau to improve aviation safety by determining the circumstances and causes of air accidents and serious incidents and providing safety recommendations intended to prevent recurrence of similar accidents without apportioning blame.

In his maiden media interaction, Olateru said: "Accident investigation is about timely release of reports, give the right recommendations and that will enhance the overall safety of the industry. But, if you don't do that, the purpose of the report is defeated. We hope to change that."

True to his word, Olateru has ensured consistent release of accident and serious incident reports with hundreds of safety recommendations.

Between 2017 till 2019, the total number of reports released by Olateru and his management team is 58.7 per cent of total reports released since the bureau was set up in 2007! That feat is unassailable, yet, he is not resting on his oars.

In the first quarter of 2020, AIB under Olateru will release to the public additional 10 reports, thereby bringing to 65 per cent of reports since inception released by the current management in about three years.

"When I came onboard, there were loads of pending accident investigation, but since I came onboard, we have released about 58 per cent of the entire work done since the inception of AIB. By the first quarter of next year, by the time we release these 10, it will push it to about 65 per cent of the entire work done.

"You can imagine that in three years, for an organisation that has been in existence for over 12 years, we have done over 65 per cent of the work done. I think that is a big plus. We have done very well. We surpassed our target because accident investigation is a time consuming activity that requires so many different inputs like funding, right technical expertise, right equipment to do your analysis and several other things.

"It is something that you can't rush into and it has to be done within 18 months. If not, it makes no impact. Within 18 months, it is a fair timing for any accident report to be released to the public. That is why some accidents that happened in 2019, some of them would be released in the first quarter of 2020," he said recently.

Apart from quick release of accident reports, Olateru also monitors the implementation of the safety recommendations by AIB. Since 2017 till date, 85 per cent of the safety recommendations from AIB have been implemented; situation which shows that the safety recommendations are implementable and affecting aviation safety positively.

Some of the achievements of Olateru in 2019 alone include, but not limited to the release of six final reports with safety recommendations, signing of pact with France on Executive Technical Cooperation Programme (ETCP), new Conditions of Service (CoS) for AIB after 12 years, opening and commissioning of two regional offices in Kano and Enugu, commissioning of well-equipped Command and Control Centre, the review of the bureau's regulations through stakeholders meeting and organisation of a symposium in collaboration with the US NTSB/ Safe Skies and continuous human capacity training for all staff.

Besides, within the past year, the bureau's Flight Safety Laboratory got certified in accordance with ISASI flight recorder working group and ICAO's standard practices and procedures for the purposes of occurrence investigations. This was a laboratory that was moribund before Olateru assumed office.

Other achievements include the appointment of one of the bureau's investigators by ICAO as the BAGAIA new Commissioner, training of 400 security Personnel (Police, Road Safety and Civil Defence) on Air Disaster Management, training of aviation journalists on Investigation Management & Media Relations in collaboration with Southern California Safety Institute (SCSI) and increase in staff strength.

For the first time in the history of AIB-N, the Bureau was requested by ICAO to investigate an air crash in Sai Tome and Principe even as neighbouring countries are signing Memoranda of Understanding with the agency for support on accident investigation. AIB-N has become a force to be reckoned with the sub region playing notable leadership roles.

However, these achievements have not gone unnoticed and have garnered recognition from several institutions with awards presented to Olateru and the bureau. Some of them include Nigerian Aviation (NIGAV) Award, 2017- Most Innovative Aviation Leader of the Year, 9th LEAD Grand Award, 2017- Excellence in Safety Management, Nigerian Aviation (NIGAV) Award, 2018 - Aviation CEO of the Year and Nigeria Transport Awards, 2018- A Frontline Transport & Logistics Personality in Nigeria.

Others are the Tourism Transportation Summit Expo- Exceptional Leadership in Aviation Accident Investigation and Prevention, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) 2018- Award in recognition of your Management unflinching support to our union and your contribution towards sustainability of industrial peace and harmony in the aviation industry, AVSEC Appreciation Award in recognition of outstanding support towards 2018 AVSEC Retreat and Iyaniwura Childrens Care Foundation in recognition of your generous support of our ICCF 2018 Festival of Childhood and Commitment to serve Humanity especially children, among others.

No doubt, Akin Olateru as a multi-talented, resourceful aviation industry professional with vast Airline and Air Transport management expertise has shown that he is the right man to take AIB-N to the desired level and definitely, he can perform better when given higher responsibilities in the future. With the agency waiting to take on multimodal accident investigation responsibility, it is sure that the sky is not the limit for the aviation body that is creating waves in the global aviation industry.

Olateru has acquired almost 30 years of industry experience, criss-crosses the aviation Industry in the UK, Europe and Nigeria, at hands-on operational, management and top executive levels.

His desire has always been to create a better and safer sky for the flying public, and has strategically grown his career pathway through the core aviation units of aircraft engineering maintenance, ground handling and passenger and cargo transport operations in the bid to becoming well-rounded and grounded in the business of air transportation. The cap really fits Olateru.

Tunji Oketunbi, General Manager, Public Affairs, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), writes from Lagos.

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