By Chinelo Obogo [email protected] 07064781119
The Federal Government’s policy which bans the importation of aircraft above 22-year old has been described as retrogressive by some experts who argue that the age of an aircraft is not a factor in its serviceability. The chairman of West Link Airline, Captain Ibrahim Mshelia, is one of those who share this view and he is advocating the ban be eased. He says that a law is supposed to be revised regularly but that it is unfortunate nobody seems to be making any efforts to expunge what he describes as an anti-development law which he believes is more detrimental to the sustainability of domestic operators.
Aviation industry not over regulated
Aviation cannot be over-regulated. Aviation has a process, it is one of the most regulated industries in the world, but it is also the normal thing, so any aviator would readily acknowledge it is the most regulated but to say over-regulated, I don’t think this is correct. Yes there is overzealousness in some cases by individuals but the regulation itself is very clear and when it’s made, it is proposed to stakeholders and when amendments are made, our voices are taken into account and then the regulation comes out.
Even though, the current regulation needs more of our voices because when they were passed into law there were some side complaints of insufficient time given for contributions, but then it was due to an upcoming external audit or so I gathered. But aviation in itself needs to be regulated the way it is, but whether there are lacunas here and there obviously there are.
I don’t know of anybody who likes the CAA. I’ve operated in the US, nobody likes the FAA, I’ve operated in Ghana and most of them don’t like the Ghana CAA, I’ve operated in Gabon, same thing, I’ve operated in Cameroon same thing, I’ve operated in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea same thing, Sierra Leone, Dakar, Senegal. I’ve operated around the world, CAA is CAA and it’s just the way the world is.
Quite frankly, there is a Nigerian factor in almost everything we do, so we don’t say that is the CAA even we the operators too, there are Nigerians factors in our attitude but as far as safety is concerned we would never have made the FAA category 1 if we are not doing things right, we are doing things right. An operator is responsible for his day to day operations and safety and NCAA is just to make sure they do it right and if you don’t, they just come in there and stop you. We are actually supposed to be the ones regulating and maintaining for ourselves.
It’s not scientifically correct to restrict importation on age and we have said this many times. We are happy that a professional colleague is minister and we hope these are some of the things he will reverse before he leaves. To give a 22 year life sentence for Nigerian registration is premature. I call on the Federal Government to please remove that from the laws so the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) can do their job. That’s for NCAA actually to determine and not the ministry and or National Assembly. The 22 year ban was done then during the time of Kema Chikwe as minister and the National Assembly of that time. It is encouraged that laws be revised every 10 years, it’s been many years since then and nobody seem to be making any efforts to delete this very bad anti-development law in my opinion.
A plane only flies when a properly trained and certified pilot is on it flying it. For a serviceable aircraft and a qualified pilot to fly, they also need a third approval to do so. It is either it is flown for commercial purposes or private use. Both require prior permits or licenses before you can operate the plane. So aircraft is not like a car that you have road worthiness and driver’s license then start your car and start moving.
Age not a factor in safety of aircraft operations
Age is not a factor of serviceability. Ageing aircraft program can be more expensive but not out of scope for operators to comply. Again, aircraft are designed to last based on material test and capabilities of airframes among other things. A non-pressurised airframe will have to be damaged or corroded before it becomes a concern for safety. The pressurised airframe however is designed based on tested design circles. Each time you take off and land with a pressuring airframe, you add stress to cabin as you pressurise and wings when you land. The manufacturer counts each flight (takeoff and landing) as a circle.
Now, some manufacturers can design airframes to go up to 30 to 60,000 circles or even more now. Let’s now look at a typical Nigerian airline which does average of four flights with one particular aircraft per day and Monday to Friday as weekends are usually used for maintenance and light schedule.
Four flights a day at five days per week in 52 weeks of the year will be 1,040 circles. So if we divide based on an assumed first lifespan circle of 30,000 circle, 1,040 annual circles will be 28 years and mind you, this can also go through a D-check and be renewed again for whatever the test determines or even another 30,000 circles. Don’t forget too that no plane can fly continuously back to back for 28 years; they will probably fly average of eight to 10 months in a year.
When the manufacturer’s cycles are reached and material failures cannot be guaranteed and therefore aircraft is unable to pass certain laid down ageing program maintenance checks, then that aircraft is scrapped. Also, the owner may feel like he does not want the plane anymore and may decide to scrap it. There are too many technicalities that should not be politicised. Those who take decision don’t know and therefore rely on consultants and there are so many armchair consultants these days. Those in office should be weary of those who throw themselves at them claiming to be experts under all sorts of names these days, otherwise we will never discard some of these obnoxious rules that hinder the growth of the industry.
Maintenance is not based on age but hours or cycles. These hours or cycles can take 100 years depending on utilisation as well. If you are allowed say 30,000 cycles as explained, the cycles cannot be back to back and day to day. For instance, 30,000 cycles even when flown back to back will occur in about 28 years or even 100 years in low utilisation. So you see how that ban was insensitive to scientific reality. I don’t even like talking about it quite frankly. It’s a standard one would expect an FAA CAT1 country not to take at all. An accident obviously retires an aircraft if the level of damage is serious like C level or B level damage.
I did not believe that promise because I took it as campaign rhetoric, so I am not disturbed or disappointed because I did not commit it to heart. How can a government without even a strong and competitive flag carrier tell you they will setup up MRO and you believe?
The only solution is to allow more competition. If I have an airline flying for less, I will choose that cheaper one but when there seem to be a gang up between the few available, then they can do what they want and you also cannot stop them. It’s a matter of choice and when a provider chooses to exploit or take advantage, then the client can choose to use alternatives available or cancel. More airlines are coming on stream, this will mitigate this problem. In defense of the airlines, there are many factors that affect ticket pricing in Nigeria. Aviation does not enjoy oil money anymore. The agencies have to employ people above what they need because there is pressure from all over. They also have to generate what they use to pay the staff, develop infrastructure and maintain them. Not only that, they have to contribute to the federation account some 25 per cent of income or so. Airlines are faced sometimes with fuel price increase like every other day. More labour force at the agencies because they are forced to employ everyone and must pay salary and sustain them at work. How can they do these without taxing the airlines heavily?
I feel those who advised the Federal Government to remove the Aviation ministry from subvention should go back and advice Government to amend the decision. Even funding the salaries from the subvention will ease the agencies and cause a huge relief from the burden. Ideally, the number of staff are just way more than required but because we must give employment to citizens, by all means why not. But we must also try not to over milk the cow because we may soon end up without any. Its government responsibility to provide all sorts of security including jobs, let them pay them directly while the agencies use them.
Also, inconsistent fuel pricing, airlines paying duty for spares even when the Fg has granted waivers etc. As I speak, I still pay duty for all parts I import to service our aircraft. I don’t even know if there is anything we produce locally that we use to operate our aircraft these days besides just catering. We depend on imports for everything and yet-duty waivers granted are still being collected from operators and that is part of what’s making travelers pay more. Operators have to recover their investments. They are encouraged by same system to also recover their costs. The government holds the final say on this issue.