NIGERIA: Path To Focus Aviation Sector

The amendment of the Acts guiding aviation agencies, including the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) is aimed at modernising operations of these agencies.

It also aims to eliminate conflicting provisos and to update the regulation to be in tandem with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
But the public hearing organised by Senate which lasted from October 2nd to 4th, 2020 created the opportunity for brainstorming, airing of new ideas and provided a substrate for umbrage among people and organistations with conflicting interest

Matters bordering on taxes, charges and debts ignited arguments that had to be tamed by the wisdom and experience of the former Director General of NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren.
Presenters at the hearing hauled allegations on airlines on the first day of sitting, which reinforced endless disagreements between the airlines and the agencies over issues concerning debts and operational environment.
In his speech that calmed the fraying nerves, Demuren spoke about the need to amend the acts that guide the agencies.
“All of us have worked together in the past to achieve this, we have tried in the past and all of us have witnessed it here. But we are going higher; we must not lose this opportunity. Never before have we had Minister of Aviation as an aviator.

“We never had Permanent Secretary as an aviator – two of them are together now, so they know what we are talking about and they can move forward. We have to support this so that we can move forward. If there are areas to be highlighted let us explain it so that they can know what we are talking about. We can’t be fighting ourselves right now we need to move forward.”

Despite the grouse of the agencies over the airlines and some stakeholders who accused the airlines of being embroiled in debts and not deserving interventions funds, Demuren painted the realities.
“I want to talk about the airlines. I believe the airlines are burning but airlines must help themselves. And I believe the Minister mentioned it when we’re discussing this. Airlines borrowing money at high interest rate of 25 per cent is a killer. You cannot make money.

“The minister said he will get single digit interest rate so we should embrace that. Now, when it comes to forex, foreign airlines get forex but Nigerian airlines don’t get forex. We should open a window to make sure that we can also let them get their own forex. They have to buy their spare parts, they have to train their people; these are the things I think we should do to make the airlines strong.

“We need strong airlines. When we look at Ethiopian Airlines, many years ago Ethiopian airlines could not even compete with Okada Air, see where they are today. We need to support our domestic airlines. They need to be strong for us, without the airlines we are dead. They are the ones that operate all over Nigeria.

“We wanted to beg the Minister to do more but you as airlines must have corporate governance, you must pay your bills. You can’t collect money and you won’t pay, if you do that abroad, they will sanction you.
“In many occasions (when I was Director General) they’ve held the airlines, I did have to run back to the Minister to come and assist. I think it is important that we all agree that we need to support our airlines, they need to be strong for us and we will continue to support them in that area. Without a strong Nigerian airline, there is nothing we are doing,” Demuren said.

On regulation, the former Director General of NCAA said that before Nigeria secured Category 1 Safety Status from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the organisation complained that many aviation agencies function as regulators, but the Nigerian government had to assure the FAA officials that the country had only one regulator, NCAA.
“One thing has been on my mind, and that is the first thing that you did. ICAO complained, FAA complained, we could not get Category 1, we could not pass ICAO audit because they said there are too many agencies that function as regulators in Nigeria.

“Now, that is what this has done, we are making Nigerian aviation great, there is only one regulator and for goodness sake, let’s support a strong regulator which can talk on behalf of the industry.
“This regulator can tell the Minister that he doesn’t agree with policy or that policy, but we can do it this way, that is how we should move. I think this is very, very important, we should not lose this opportunity. We have aviator a Minister and a perm sec, and also a captain as the Director General, we should work together,” Demuren said.

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