In the overall march to reposition the country in line with the change mantra of the federal government, one area that Nigerians has called for proper searchlight is the aviation sector.
The reason for this is not unconnected with the ugly incidents that have been recorded in the past. In certain fora, some people that have lost their loved ones in plane crashes would dare to call for total shutdown of the sector. The argument in some quarters is that so much official carelessness and avoidable mistakes pervade the sector and that the government has little regard for the safety of citizens.
Some pessimists say they only travel with Nigerian airlines locally because they don’t have a choice. To that extent they conclude that when they travel they just commit their lives to God knowing that putting their lives on the so called airlines’ professionalism may be disastrous. The average air traveler is constantly piqued that the aviation personnel is hardly professionally minded and that something could just go wrong somewhere. This is however debatable.
While many worry about the safety of airlines, others believe that most airports in the country just answer names but do not measure up to required standard. This is why the argument that Nigerian airports had never been certified by the international Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) since 2006 is a regular feature. The focus of the argument is security and safety. The security aspect has to do with control of access to the airport’s sterile areas or airside and the security of other major points like the catering departments, boarding gates, check-in points and perimeter fencing.
The safety aspect involves the runway light, taxiway light, approach light, fire station and airport emergency response system, among others.
The reason for airport certification is to ascertain if there are enough personnel and equipment that can guarantee safety and security in any airport. Some have argued that while the airports in the country had been given the checklist applicable globally, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is yet to comply with the requirements on the checklist, especially the ‘open items.’
Close sources say that although the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja and other airports in the country were yet to be certified by the NCAA, the regulatory authority officials said the situation did not mean the airports were not safe for operation. According to them, it only meant that certain flight and certain operations could not be carried out in these airports.
Former General Manager, Corporate Communications, FAAN, Yakubu Dati, said the issue of non-certification of the airports was an age-long problem caused by negligence of past ministers of aviation in the country. The situation, according to him, was one of the reasons the former Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah, came up with the airport remodelling programme. He said the idea was that as soon as the remodelling was completed, the airports would be re-presented for certification. The process obviously could not be completed before the Minister was sacked and those who took after her did not consider it necessary.
However, Dati said that, “This does not mean that our airports are not safe. Our airports are very safe and secure. Remember that before American airlines started flying to Nigeria, the United States Transportation Safety Administration officials came here and examined MMIA and same for Abuja later on and approved them safe and secure. And they do this yearly. In fact, they gave us impressive marks. If the airports were not safe, all these foreign airlines, including American carriers would not have been operating in Nigeria. It is just that getting the airport certified by our own NCAA is just necessary.”
But a former Military Commandant of the MMIA, Group Captain John Ojikutu, said that no airport in the country had been certified. He said some of the issues that might have been barring the regulatory authority from doing so might be related to lack of perimeter fence in some of the airports, poor lighting system and infrastructure in general.
“To the best of my knowledge, no airport has been certified, and the only agency that can give such certification in the country is the NCAA. But we know that it is almost impossible for the agency to certify any airport in the country because of the basic infrastructure that the airports are lacking.”
Executive Director, Centre for Aviation Safety and Research, Mr. Sheri Abba Kyari, said that the NCAA needed to take safety issues such as the licensing of the airport very seriously, noting that this was a major challenge of the aviation sector. He said, “The NCAA really has to do something about the fact that our airports are not certified. With the way things are going now, I think they have to refocus on that, because it is a safety issue.” He urged the regulators to look into the issue with utmost care, explaining that the fact that airports in the country were not privatized was also a major issue that was hindering the certification.
He said, “Licensing and certification is mainly for airports that have been privatized and by the time government decides to privatize our airports, it will make a lot of difference.”
Kyari told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY that the only way to get the aviation industry in Nigeria to function efficiently is when private hands are allowed to run the business while the role of government is restricted to regulation.
It must be recalled that the immediate past Director-General of the NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren stated that lack of fire cover forced NCAA to downgrade some airports from category three to seven and above, meaning that instead of the airport operating a super-jumbo jet, it can be allowed to operate light air planes like Hawker Sidlley, Beechcraft or at most, a B737 aircraft.
But the current NCAA Director-General, Capt. Mukhtar Usman however pledged the commitment of the authority to get at least the four major international airports in the country certified by ICAO.
He also explained that the non-certification of the airports does not mean they were unsafe. “Our airports are safe; our airspace is also safe. The regulatory agency is up and doing”, the DG said in an interview culled from ‘the Regulator’, NCAA in house magazine.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) however said the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, would be certified on from July 21.
Rabiu Yadudu, the Director of Operations, FAAN, made the disclosure while speaking with newsmen on the sidelines of the Quarterly Breakfast Meeting of the Aviation Roundtable (ART) in Lagos.
Yadudu said that the certification of airports in the country would improve infrastructure, procedure and safety.
“Once we certify Lagos, we will continue with that of Abuja Airport which will take place after another five weeks.
“We are also targeting the certification of other airports like Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt within the next few months,” he said.
However, the Acting General Manager, Public Relations, NCAA, Sam Adurogboye told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY that all the talk that Nigerian airports are not certified is not true because certification is not a one off affair as every airport in Nigeria has gone through one level of certification or the other before they started operations.
“Certification is not done once. When you start to carry out certification of airports it is done in five stages. One, two, three, four and five in that order. Until you finish phase one you don’t move to stage two. Until you finish two you don’t go to three. Now in all these stages, whatever you want to fix, the auditors come from NCAA and some expertise are provided by ICAO from their regional office in Dakar, Senegal. Whatever observations are found, if there is any deficiency, everybody will see it, you as the owner you will fix it. When you fix it, you call back, then they come back and check. This happens in all the stages. So that has been the issue.
“That Nigerian airports are not certified; the answer is No! The process is ongoing. We have gone past three stages, we are in four now and almost at the final stage. The next thing is they will give them certificates.
On the airports they are being certified presently, Adurogboye said, “They are taking MMIA Lagos and NAIA Abuja airports almost simultaneously. The airports that ICAO are interested in are majorly international airports. International airports are our main gateway and airports are of grades and categories.”
On the issue of timing, he said that auditors do not just happen on airports without notice. “When we want to audit, we write the person we want to audit and we tell you to suggest time. You must be ready for me to come. If ICAO is coming to audit Nigeria, they will write us. Even though we are part of it. It was decided at Montreal Canada by the Civil Aviation Authorities of different countries. There must be an agreement. If it is not convenient they won’t come.
“People keep saying Nigeria airports are certified. All the airports that are operating in Nigeria went through some level of certification. If they are not fit for operations, the NCAA will not give them approval. So people misunderstand this by lack of information or knowledge. Now certification is an added advantage. Which you do only for your major-international airports, not all. Every airport in Nigeria went through some level of certification: their approval, their licence before they opened for operations. All the airports are categorized. They are not of the same status. It is not all the airport that have the same runway length, or terminals. Just like hotels are categorized as three star, four star and five star- what led to that star is the categorization in the number of rooms, space, and all the rest; it is the same thing with airports.
“There are things that lead to categorization and the airport is open to the kind of aircrafts that are operating in that place. So if it is not in order, nobody will open it for operations. Now certification is an added advantage. You are now giving the airport international colouration that will garnish your case. That’s all. Certification is necessary and it is done only for the international airports and not all. What concerns ICAO is your major gateway that are open to world operations,” he said.