…FG yet to file AOC application with NCAA
Nigerians hoping to savour the delight of flying in a new national carrier before the end of 2018 as proposed by President Muhamadu Buhari may, have to wait longer as there are no strong indications that the Federal Government is committed to the actualisation of the project.
Investigations by Daily Sun reveal that the government is yet to submit to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) an application for Air Operators Certificate (AOC) for he proposed carrier nearly six month to the proposed take-off date of the airline.
It is also not clear when the government intends to seal the final investment decision (FID) with prospective investors to commence the purchase of aircraft and recruitment of staff, particularly pilots, aeronautical engineers, and cabin crew for the airline given the nearness to the December 24, 2018 target deadline for its inaugural flight.
There are also many safety regulatory processes that accompany the launch of a new airline. For instance, preceding the commencement of a new airline or an inaugural flight is the test-run of all the aircraft that would be designated on particular routes by the regulatory agencies of the countries involved in the Bilateral Air Service agreements (BASAs). This usually involves flying aircraft from one route to the other without passengers. Many analysts have therefore queried Nigeria’s preparedness to launch its national carrier by the end of 2018 when the above highlighted prerequisites are yet to be carried out by June 2018.
In fact, on May 29, 2018, when President Muhammadu Buhari marked his third year reign with a national broadcast that highlighted, among other things, his achievements in the aviation sector, he had remained silent on the national carrier project.
There is no doubt that the Buhari’s government has a pursued the national carrier project on a rather snail speed. A national carrier holds, perhaps the greats prospect of opening up the Nigerian aviation sector as Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASAs) with about 88 countries currently stands unreciprocated leading to the continuous dominance of the Nigerian sky by foreign airlines with the attendant capital flight.
Indeed, the inability of President Buhari to float a national carrier after three years in government counts as one of the low points of his government’s performance in the aviation sector. Till date, Nigerians are also yet to see the conversion of ‘idle’ aircraft in the Presidential fleet for the purpose of a national carrier. And according to the Chairman of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Noggie Megison, about 500 Nigerian pilots continue to roam the streets looking for jobs owing to the absence of a national carrier to bring in the requisite aircraft that would have created new jobs in the industry.
The set back
It would be recalled that under the Buhari’s government, the aviation industry was merged with the maritime and rail transport ministries and renamed Federal Ministry of Transport with Chibuike Amaechi as Minister of Transport, while Hadi Sirika was appointed Minster of State for Aviation. The appointment of the two ministers, which came after President Buhari had spent about six months on the saddle, was highly criticised by a lot of industry analysts given that delay stalled so many projects. Without doubt, President Buhari on assumption of office inherited an aviation industry that had begun to enjoy massive infrastructural upgrade by the erstwhile government of President Goodluck Jonathan. Most industry stakeholders had therefore expected the Buhari government to move in an complete the airports’ remodeling projects kick-started by his predecessor as well as initiate his own projects to ensure that Nigeria’s aviation sector potential which has remained dormant over the last 50 years were unlocked for national prosperity.
Some of the remarkable promises which the Buhari’s government had made to Nigerians included the maintenance of a safe sky for local and international airlines; the establishment of a new national carrier, even if it meant offloading some of the aircraft in the Presidential fleet to kick start it; the establishment of a functional Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) hanger for local airlines; creation of new jobs and retention of existing ones; as well as the upgrading of navigational equipments, among others.
Buhari, in his Democracy Day anniversary speech said his government was undertaking various reform programmes in the transport sector (which includes aviation) in line with international best practices and that the industry was faring better than the years before his government came on board.
“The nation’s major airports have witnessed reconstruction of runways, installation of navigational equipment and new international terminals due for commissioning in Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Enugu. Bilateral Air Services Agreements between Nigeria and the governments of other countries will significantly open up new flight routes.
“As a result of strict regulatory and compliance policies, Nigeria retained Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Category 1 status, after a routine international audit. Recently, a new Maintenance Repair and Overhaul facility with capacity for aircraft C-checks and other comprehensive levels of maintenance was established in Lagos. This would save the country an estimated $90million annually,” Buhari added.
To the credit of the government however, it has been able, through strict safety regulations by the NCAA to ensure a zero-air accident record by commercial aircraft in the last three years.
The government for instance, was also quick in shutting down the Abuja airport for the repair of the runway in order to avert a possible air-crash as most foreign airlines had stopped flying into the airport. The government was also very proactive in resuscitating the facilities at the Kaduna airport to international standards to allow domestic and foreign flights utilise it as an alternate airport while the Abuja airport was underging repairs. Other highpoints of the Buhari government in the aviation sector has been the dismantling of the many checkpoints at the international airports under the ease of doing Business initiative.
These days, passenger facilitation at international airports has been very smooth, although much of the credit still goes to his predecessor who expanded the airports with more Immigration Counters to hasted movements for outbound and inbound passengers.
But that there has been no air crash in the last three years doesn’t mean that all has been well with the regulation of the industry. Lots of passengers who fly daily have had cause to report several near-crash incidences among local airlines as well as safety breaches by buglers on moving aircraft. Pilots too have complained on these safety breaches including the encroachment at the Akure airport runway by cows considered indeed a clear indicators that all is still not well with the NCAA regulatory oversight on the industry.