By Chinelo Obogo [email protected] 07064781119
Four new airlines would soon begin operations in Nigeria within the next three or four months, says Captain Musa Nuhu th eDirector General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
According to him, NCAA is very eager to support any applicant who wishes to set up an airline, though he lamented that current and defunct airlines owe the Aviation Authoritybabout N19 billion and $7 billion.
In this interview, he disclosed that no domestic airline is unsafe to fly, refuting reports that some airlines may resort to cutting corners due to financial constraints.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) came into existence on December 7, 1944, but we all missed something. On November 1, 1925, Nigeria witnessed its first aircraft, which landed in Kano. It is now 95 years that we had the first plane that landed in our country and that was about 20 years before ICAO was formed. ICAO is a specialised agency of the United Nations and was formed after the Chicago Convention. What ICAO specifically does is to develop standards and recommended practices that give guidelines to safety, security, environmental protection, cyber securities and others.
Nigeria has benefitted in lots of ICAO’s standards and recommended practices from security and safety elements, legislation and several other areas. Nigeria has been a member of ICAO non-stop since 1962 and in addition to that, we have been a member of ICAO Council, which is the governing body of ICAO. Only 36 states, out of 194 member states, are in the ICAO Council and every three years, we elect council member states and Nigeria has successfully been elected in the past 18 elections of the council. The immediate past President, Dr. Bernard Aliu, was a Nigerian. He was elected twice for that position.
I can categorically say that our airplanes are safe. The airplanes that are not safe have been grounded. Some aircraft have been grounded in Nigeria for months because they are not safe and we have insisted that the operators must fix whatever issue they have before they are authorised to fly.
The standard as regards airworthiness of airplanes, even I as the DG I do not have the authority to waive anything as long as it is a safety-related issue. All our aircraft flying are safe. I believe this statement came supposedly from the National Assembly and I want to believe there was a misquotation. I will leave it like that. Somehow, the story was twisted by whoever, for whatever, to make a sensational story.
What this has done is that it has cast doubt on Nigerian civil aviation before international community and what that will end up doing is that it will make it more difficult for our airlines to assess international funds, to have good lease rate for their aircraft, their insurance premium may go up. Of course, the twisting of the comment has created an impression that Nigeria civil aviation is not safe and I don’t think you want to put your aircraft or money where the system is not safe. It is unfortunate and that is not the state we are in. I can categorically state that all aircraft we are flying in Nigeria are safe and safe to fly. You can quote me on that.
The subject of palliatives is a policy of government and it is the duty of the Ministry of Aviation to come out with policies of the government, while NCAA does regulations. So that issue is under the purview of the Minister of Aviation.
As regards the civil aviation authority, the pandemic led to the closure of so many countries, which prevented a lot of the airlines to send their pilots for foreign training. Even, before ICAO came up with its protocols on Covid-19, we at NCAA sat down, developed in-house protocols and compliance assessment for each airlines, gave them programmes by which they complied and we ensured that pilots and engineers are positioned and good to fly.
This, the airlines would have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for simulation fee, estacode for crew and others. Simulation training depends on which aircraft you fly and it cost between $10,000 and $15,000. So, you imagine an airline that has up to 30 pilots, engineers, cabin crew and others. That is a huge palliative for the operators because that is money they would have spent on the technical crew, but they didn’t spend it. The expenses of the entire industry run to millions of dollars, but nobody talks about it because we didn’t give them cash. If we had insisted, that is the money they would have spent, but we understand the entire industry is really in big trouble. However, our regulators are working with the airlines on how they can expand their operations in this trying moment.
The airlines owe us cumulatively about N19 billion and $7 billion. But unfortunately, some of the airlines are extinct.
Ticket Sales Charge
The fact is that some airlines are in the portal, while others are yet to join and we are in discussion with the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), which is the umbrella body of airlines in the country. For the portal, we have a tripartite agreement; one side is NCAA, another side is the airline and the third party is the bank of the airlines. So, we reached an agreement that if you sell a ticket, they will calculate the five per cent of the ticket, not the whole ticket except levies and taxes. Once that is calculated, the five per cent of the Ticket Sales Charge (TSC) will go into NCAA coffers. The 5 per cent, NCAA captures it for the eventual agencies, we share it accordingly. A lot of people think the entire 5 per cent is for NCAA, which is not true.
For the foreign airlines, they go through the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the collection is automatic. We want all the airlines in Nigeria to be on the platform and that will make it easy for us to get our own 5 per cent from each ticket sales.
We don’t have a deadline yet for airlines to join the portal because those who have not joined, there is a leeway for them to do the processing, enter into a tripartite agreement, which also include their lawyers, bankers and several other people who have to go through to ensure that it is fair and just for both sides.
It is not only the national carrier we are expecting in 2021; we are expecting may be three or four new airlines to come on board within the next three or four months. I can say that as a regulator, we are here to support any applicant; whether a national carrier or a private based to go through the process, proper certification and sit down with them to resolve any challenges or difficulties they are going through and give them approval.
However, I cannot disclose the level of processes of any airline, but we are ready to help anybody that comes. The more airlines that operate, the better for me and the better the impact on the aviation industry.
I cannot subsidise the business of the airlines. These are businesses that have to survive. I really sympathise with them because in addition to the devastating effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on their businesses, a lot of their expenses are in dollars, for instance, training, maintenance and spare parts. We can all see the exchange rate at the moment. The operators need to survive. If they don’t charge appropriately, they can’t make profit. They need to charge appropriately in order to survive and provide safe, secure and efficient services.
The airline industry globally is really in a difficult situation. Major airlines in Europe, America and others, have grounded hundreds of their aircraft; lay off pilots, engineers and cabin crew in some places and significantly poor salaries. The airlines are in a very difficult situation in the world. Even, some airlines in the Middle East had to take some significant steps of grounding some of their aircraft and letting go of some of their crew. So, the airlines need to survive. It is a very difficult situation for everybody.