NCAA and quest for autonomy

NCAA-LOGOTHE Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has been receiving its fair share of criticisms from aviation experts and stakeholders who say that the authority needs to be strengthened to be able to improve on and sustain the attained air safety in Nigeria.

Some of the criticisms point to NCAA’s inability to make aviation business a lucrative one for the industry in order to witness the much needed investment and development.

With its enormous potential and the country’s huge population, domestic airliners say that only about one per cent of Nigerians afford to travel by air, with the industry contributing a laughable 0.4 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP).

However, experts believe that with better regulation by the NCAA, the industry can begin to witness the expected growth.

Industry watchers who believe that the Ministry of Aviation is wielding too much influence on NCAA are now calling for the scrapping of the ministry, alleging that it is responsible for the many regulatory lapses that has bedeviled the Authority in the past.

Their argument is that if NCAA is empowered and fully made autonomous, it would perform better than when operating under a ministry that breathes hard on its neck.
T
he stakeholders are also concerned that the Ministry is now the one that wields the big stick, instead of NCAA, which ideally should be the one set free, to regulate the sector in line with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) rules.

An aviation industry analyst, Chris Aligbe is among the stakeholders in the sector who are calling for the scraping of the ministry and the strengthening of NCAA to perform its functions.

His words: “The Ministry of Aviation has contributed nothing to the development of the aviation industry. I tell you the truth, looking at the Ministry of Aviation over the years, I asked myself what substantially has the Ministry contributed in the development of aviation? If you look at it in the last ten years or since the democratic dispensation, what fundamentally has the Ministry contributed to the growth of aviation? It is not the Ministry that developed the Nigerian Civil Aviation (NCAA) Act.

When the country saw red card with the air crashes that nearly killed the industry because the country experienced tremendous disasters from the crashes that came, the industry rose up to make sure that there was a formidable NCAA with great autonomy in the area of safety regulation and in all other areas where it should function. So the Ministry has contributed nothing to aviation development in Nigeria, and therefore should be scrapped”.

According to him it was the accidents of that time between 2005 and 2006 that prompted the federal government to revamp the aviation industry to bring an end to the yearly carnage of Nigerians. To end the recurring accidents, the regulatory authority have to be autonomous to effectively carry out its responsibility of ensuring that the airlines abide by international safety standards.

This was why there was spirited effort to make NCAA autonomous in 2006 when the Civil Aviation Act was passed into law.

Abiding by this standard, he said, means that airlines must operate aircraft that are airworthy; they must have certified pilots that are qualified to operate the aircraft; they must have qualified engineers and standard maintenance facility either locally or overseas. They must also carry out compulsory training of flight and cabin crew, regular maintenance of their aircraft and acquisition of such aircraft must be supervised and certified before they are brought into the country for service.

In addition, NCAA should be free to regulate other agencies, including the Federal Airports Authority, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET). These agencies were expected to have the right facilities, maintain given standards and
provide effective services.

Before the air crashes climaxed in the years under review leading to several loss of lives, airlines were not being effectively checked in their operations. They brought in aircraft that were not airworthy, recruited not well trained pilots and their aircraft were poorly maintained, hence the many air crashes.

Since the new Act came into effect in 2006, air safety has greatly improved. Industry analysts agree that in terms of safety standard Nigeria has recorded significant achievement. This was exemplified by the fact that the country passed the International Civil Aviation Organisation audit and few years later earned the highly sought after US Federal Aviation Administration Category 1 safety status, which indicated that Nigeria has met very high standard of safety and which also enabled US registered aircraft to operate commercial service into the country.
But despite this improvement, Nigeria suffered one of the worst air disasters in 2012 when Dana Air flight 092 crashed in Lagos killing all the 153 persons on board. The following year a chartered Associated Aviation flight crashed on take-off at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.

After the Associated Airlines’ accident the industry has not recorded a major incident the following year and so far in 2015 the country has maintained clean record.

Industry watchers said that besides the interferences of the Ministry, NCAA is being run professionally; therefore to make it absolutely effective it must secure its full autonomy from the Ministry.

An employee of NCAA who pleaded anonymity said the Authority almost became bankrupt and found it difficult to pay salaries of staff and carry out other responsibilities because of financial demands by the ministry and poor management of the scarce resources of the agency before the appointment of the present Director-General, Captain Usman Mukhtar.

His words: “Now there is no more free money. The loopholes are closed and we are getting out of the financial doldrums. Training has been streamlined and critical ones are approved with set objectives which include acquisition of skills, upgrade of skills by the technical staff. Not all the trainings are allowed to be done overseas. Some are done locally in order to meet the budget; only higher trainings are done overseas now”.

On economic regulation, industry analysts believe that a fully autonomous NCAA would be able to carry out economic regulation of the airlines without interferences from the Ministry.

“From 2006 to 2012 there was no economic regulation because the focus was on safety. All the employment done in NCAA was to boost the departments that would enforce and ensure safety air operation.

Economic regulation and consumer protection were relegated to the background. It was during the controversy triggered by high charges from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic which were accused of exploiting Nigerians that made government to realise that there really was no law to check such excesses from the airlines. This was what gave birth to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulation Act (NCARA) in October 2012,” a legal expert in the industry said.

According to him, Part 18 of the NCAR deals with economic regulation of the industry while part 19 deals with consumer protection with sanctions. In other words, any airline that breaches any of the regulations on consumer protection is sanctioned.

“If you fail to pay your staff you can face sanctions; even to owe agencies, but some of these laws are not carried out because of interferences from the Ministry of Aviation. So NCAA is not weak; it is just that the Ministry cannot allow it to do its duties. So it is facing external interferences from the Ministry. This is the reason why many people want the Ministry to be scrapped so that NCAA will be strengthened to face its responsibilities.

“Ideally delays and cancelations should be sanctioned. After two hours of delay, a passenger has the right to demand and get his fare back. The truth is that effective economic regulation will ground the airlines and force them to operate by the book,” said an industry source.

So, with full autonomy, under a competent and experienced director-general, it is expected that NCAA should not only ensure safety of air
operations, but ensure the reinvigoration of Nigerian sector.



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