In Search Of Enhanced Aviation Regulation

The aviation community has been aghast over the drama playing out in Nigeria where operators are questioning the regulator – Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) – over its methodology in the discharge of its statutory functions.

Recently, AZMAN Air and NCAA traded accusations over the suspension of AZMAN’s operations. The airline alleged ill-treatment by the regulator while the regulator said it was impartial in the discharge of its duties.

Citing disregard for safety procedures, the NCAA on March 19, suspended AZMAN ‘s operations  and grounded its fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft, to enable it carry out a technical safety and economic audit of the airline.

Among other reasons, the NCAA said the airline had experienced incidents of tyre bursts on landing, a trend that could lead to tragedy.

The NCAA said over a period of about six weeks, Azman Air’s Boeing 737 aircraft operating scheduled passenger flights were involved in three separate incidents, resulting in damage to the aircraft in each case but with no loss of life.

But, the airline alleged that the regulator carried out selective  grounding of  its operations, insisting that other carriers experienced similar serious incidents but were not sanctioned.

Worried over the trend, the NCAA within two weeks of grounding AZMAN Air carried out an audit of its operations which revealed a series of safety violations.

According to the Director-General of NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu, the authority would have ignored the allegations raised by the airline, but it was constrained to put the records straight by ensuring the books of the carrier were looked into to establish that there was no ill-feeling against the carrier.

The preliminary report on the audit of the airline’s operations revealed a gross violation of safety regulations.

The audit revealed that there was “complete non staffing of the Safety Management Department and the staffing of the Quality Management Department with only one officer, thereby making it impossible to effectively implement Safety and Quality Management Systems duties as required by Nig.CARs and respectively.”

The report also stated that Azman Air Ltd was found to be in violation of Nig.CARs 18.10.3 regarding the submission of monthly financial health reports to the NCAA.

It said : “This is evidenced in Azman Air’s failure to meet up with the monthly obligation in submitting the required financial health report for months despite several reminders. Last submission was in July, 2020. During this audit, Azman submitted reports for December, 2020 and January 2021,” the report said.

Azman Air was also found to be in violation of Section 12 (1) of Civil Aviation Act, 2006  regarding to non-remittance of five per cent Ticket Sales Charge.

“This is evidenced by the airline being indebted to the authority to the tune of One billion Five Hundred and Forty Five million, Two hundred and Sixty Two thousand One hundred and Twenty naira, Thirty One kobo (N1, 545,262,120.31) as at December, 2020. The airline was found to be in violation of Nig.CARs 18.12.6 as regards to signing an agreement with the Authority for direct debit. This is evidenced by delay in signing of the Direct Debit Tripartite Agreement with NCAA,” NCAA said.

In addition to so many other infractions, NCAA further said the airline’s Accountable Manager exhibited a lack of understanding of his duties and responsibilities as contained in the Operations Manuals, which indicated lack of evidence of the Accountable Manager’s involvement in Management Reviews of Quality Audit Findings.

However, AZMAN Air has since written a letter of apology to the NCAA on the matter.

Accountable Manager of Azman Air, Muhammad Abdulmunaf, in a statement, expressed regret over the development, saying the allegations against the person of NCAA DG were not informed by the Azman chairman.

“We denied management’s knowledge and approval for such careless and unfortunate allegations made against the person of the DG but promised to conduct internal investigations as to the source/s of the allegations.

“We have now conducted such in-house investigations, which led to accusations and counter-accusations amongst our staff as to who did it. We have established that, at least, it came from one of them, hence our disappointment with ourselves.

“At the suspension of our services by the NCAA, an overzealous staff, who erroneously thought that the suspension was dictated by our failure to pay for the advert, without the knowledge and consent of the management of Azman, authored the unfortunate allegations against the DG.

“We wish to unreservedly tender our apologies to both the person of Capt. Musa Nuhu and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. We state categorically that there wasn’t and there is still, no iota of truth in the allegations which are capable of damaging the reputations of the DG and the NCAA. We equally extend our apologies to the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, for any embarrassment our actions may have caused him and the government.

“We regret every inconvenience caused to the DG, NCAA, the Minister of Aviation and the aviation industry in Nigeria as a result of our publication of that falsehood. While we seek forgiveness for our actions, we promise to tighten our communication controls to avoid future embarrassing situations like this one caused by us.”

Since the report became public, many  Nigerians have  become apprehensive about the state of air safety.

Some experts say the trend of airlines challenging the regulator needs rigorous scrutiny as it would not only affect the safety reputation of the country in the international civil aviation arena, but expose the underbelly of civil aviation regulations.

They, however, gave kudos to the NCAA for being able to intervene at the time it did. But, industry watchers are worried over the long wait after the allegations of corner cutting and obvious incompetence took place before the regulator intervened. They asked : ”  Why didn’t NCAA stop the airline after noticing the initial lack of commitment safety standards?

Some industry stakeholders have criticised the NCAA, alleging that may be some of its officials had started “looking at faces” before acting.

The Chairman, West Link Airlines, Captain Ibrahim Mshelia, advised that to forestall a recurrence of safety infractions of the last few months, businessmen should relinquish management of airlines to professionals to handle the day-to-day affairs.

He knocked the NCAA over what he described as lapses on its side in the certification of key position holders like accountable managers, stressing that for that position it went beyond checking a list as there was the need to show understanding of the functions of that position.

Mshelia said aviation regulation world over was standard and there was no such thing as over-regulating airlines, especially when safety is the key word and where airlines have the primary function of being responsible for his day-to-day operations and safety.

On  NCAA’s shortcomings, Mshelia said: ”So, what civil aviation authority has done in that case where they need to get a knock is because, they were complacent in certifying the key post holders you must have post holders that are qualified and if you have key post holder who is supposed to be at the helm directing affairs, he must comply with certain minimum standard just as ICAO says for the civil aviation authority  man to inspect you and we hammer on that , we insist on that and the civil aviation authority  tries to respond, that must make sure that who they send to inspect must have qualifications equivalent to those they are coming to inspect or above.”

Nuhu shed more light on the Azman situation. He stressed that what happened to the airline was not a punitive measure; but the civil aviation authorities responsibility and duty to guide and work with operators and assist them to ensure they are in compliance with our regulations

On the airline’s key post holders who were found wanting during the audit, Nuhu admitted the regulator erred.

He said: “I met them but I think it is my responsibility as director-general when I see something wrong to rectify it which is what we are doing.”

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