Tuesday 15 October 2013

Nigeria: Every reason to believe our airspace is not safe

These are not coincidences
I find myself trying to juxtapose the stark realities with the press briefings of bluster and vacuous lip service to performance and efficiency that dogs our aviation regulatory organisations in Nigeria.
In the aftermath of two events, a fatal crash in Lagos with flight 5N-BJY operated by Associated Aviation and flight 5N-JRM operated by Kabo Air in a near-miss, in Sokoto, the Aviation Minister insisted that the Nigerian air space is safe. [5N-BJY – Aviation Safety Network] [5N-JRM – Aviation Safety Network] [Daily Times]
Lapses in compliance
Along with the unfortunate, ‘Act of God’ comment posited by the Minister, in another report, she suggested broadly that there were “operational lapses and non-compliance with the policy”.
What we did by suspending Dana’s operations is not making scapegoat of anyone. To suspend means that there must be operational lapses and non-compliance with the policy but it is always in tandem with international practice.” [This Day Live]
In the same report, she alluded to shared responsibilities and possibly gaps, and then she touched on a diverted return of another flight because the destination airport was closed as if either no flight plans were posted or other extenuating circumstances meant the trip could not be completed.
Having excoriated the people who have questioned reforms in the aviation sector, the Federal Government “also insisted that the safety and security of the sector cannot be fully achieved without funding.” The question then is whether there is adequate funding to ensure the safety and the security of our airspace.
The people in charge
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is empowered with “the Authority to regulate Aviation Safety without political interference, but also to carry out oversight functions of Airports, Airspace, Meteorological Services, etc. as well as economic regulations of the industry”. [NCAA]
Under the safety oversight functions of the NCAA, it is important to understand in detail what the NCAA does in Nigeria, the detail of which I have lifted from their website.
In Nigeria, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is the apex regulatory body, overseeing the activities of all airlines and their pilots, engineers and cabin staff, airports, airstrips and heliports, navigation aids, all service providers including the airport authority and the air traffic service provider, aviation training institutions, etc. NCAA watches over the entire industry. Its role can aptly be described as that of "general overseer" or "referee:' For want of a better sobriquet, NCAA has even been address as the "police" of the industry.
While all these are correct, NCAA is essentially a facilitator of compliance of aviation safety and economic regulations. [NCAA]
We are left in no doubt about where the responsibility for safety lies; it lies with the regulatory, oversight and policing operations of the NCAA.
Going in broke
Which takes us back to that question, the question of adequate funding, because another news story suggests that the NCAA is broke; the more serious allegation is that the NCAA inspectors take bribes; they are apparently taking bribes because of the non-payment of NCAA inspector allowances. [PM News Nigeria]
Now, there is no excuse for taking bribes to overlook the functions and the duties necessary to protect our aviation industry. From the basic checks through airworthiness of aircraft to safety procedures and all the elements of responsibility as stated by the Aviation Minister, we cannot condone the dereliction of duty leading to the unnecessary loss of lives.
What is key is that we must realise that there is a shared responsibility, there is a collective responsibility, pilots are responsible, operators are responsible, regulators are responsible, government is responsible and all these must work together otherwise there will be a gap in the system. [This Day Live]
Temptations and pressure
An unnamed NCAA inspector, talked of compromise safety, dwindling training, struggles to procure basic needs and much else.
Aircraft inspectors’ allowances are not being paid as at when due, leaving us to the open temptations of bribe and compromise from corrupt and desperate airline operators who want their planes to fly at all costs.” [PM News Nigeria]
The source went on to say, “Some of us that are due for training overseas are asked to fund our training and come back for a refund after the training. This is absurd, and they keep saying they are broke.” [PM News Nigeria]
A crisis and great doubt
Taking all this together, we can assume as the very best there is a crisis in the Aviation Sector. The matter of safety is compromised by acts of men; those in management in the NCAA and probably the Aviation Ministry because the NCAA people cannot do their work without interference and inducement caused by not paying their allowances and not ensuring proper training.
This situation probably needs verification, but it cannot be left without investigation because it casts great doubt on the idea that Nigeria’s airspace is safe and the ICAO report that suggests Nigeria is way above average in compliance and regulatory management of her aviation industry.
At worst, we do have an emergency played out in the number of accidents and near misses that have made the news recently.
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