The United States Federal Aviation Administration conducted a five-day audit of the Nigerian aviation industry last week to check if the country had complied well enough with safety standards to justify renewal of its Category 1 Safety Status. Chinedu Eze writes that despite anxiety among industry observers, the aviation sector has tried to maintain a good safety record
A team of inspectors from the United States Federal Aviation Administration arrived Nigeria last week to re-evaluate the country’s aviation sector to try to find out whether it had maintained specified safety standards and closed safety gaps observed in the last audit. The aim of the exercise, which ran from Monday, August 21, to Friday, August 25, was to confirm if the country’s aviation industry qualified for the renewal of its Category 1 Safety Status.
On August 23, 2010, the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration announced that Nigeria had achieved a Category 1 rating under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment programme. This meant that Nigeria had complied with international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
ICAO is the United Nations’ technical agency for aviation, which establishes international standards and recommends practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.
The IASA Category 1 rating was based on the result of a July 2010 FAA review of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. With the IASA Category 1 rating, Nigerian air carriers were allowed to operate to the United States with their own registered aircraft.
Before the award of the status to Nigeria, Arik Air, which started operating to New York two years before, used wet leased aircraft with foreign cabin and cockpit crew. It was after the award of Category 1 safety rating that the airline was allowed to use Nigerian registered aircraft and crew.
An IASA Category 1 rating means a country has the laws and regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, and that its civil aviation authorities – equivalent to the FAA for aviation safety matters – meets international standards for technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping, and inspection procedures.
The rating was renewed for Nigeria in 2014 after an FAA team audited NCAA to ensure that Nigeria maintained the safety standard that had qualified it for the status. If Nigeria passes the current audit, the rating would be renewed for the second time, which would indicate that Nigeria has continued to improve its aviation industry.
Industry watchers have observed that whenever the FAA and ICAO come to audit the Nigerian aviation industry to know whether the sector has maintained operational safety standards and international practices, there are always cynics who seem to wish that Nigeria failed the audit. They have attributed this to ego trip.
But over the years, Nigeria has defied the cynics and progressively continued to pass the audit, indicating that the country has continued to improve its safety status.
Such cynicism seemed to be expressed recently by the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, which in a communiqué warned that Nigeria might lose the Category 1 safety rating. NAAPE alleged that the aviation agencies were not able to attract, hire or retain qualified and experienced pilots and engineers due to poor remuneration and conditions of service for the aviation professionals, whereas “Availability of adequate qualified technical personnel is Critical Element 4 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation Eight Critical Elements of a State’s Safety Oversight System.”
NAAPE quoted ICAO document 9734 on the Staffing Requirements in a State Civil Aviation System, which states, “To effectively fulfil its responsibilities, the state civil aviation system must be properly organised and staffed with qualified personnel capable of accomplishing the required wide range of technical duties involved in safety oversight. Furthermore, they should also enjoy conditions of service and remuneration consistent with their education, technical knowledge and experience and comparable to the operator’s staff whose activities they will inspect and supervise.”
NAAPE also stated that ICAO document 9756 Part 1 Manual of Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation, Chapter 2 section 2.4, reiterated the need for qualified, well trained and motivated personnel.
“The worldwide standard is for the CAA’s Inspector and Air Safety Investigator to earn more or, at the least, be at par in earning with the aviation technical staff in their states,” it stated.
Reacting to the NAAPE’s argument, an industry unionist and senior official in NCAA carpeted the association, saying that in comparative analysis the welfare of the aforementioned personnel is not behind those in other countries in the African and Indian (AFI) region. Besides, he said the agencies in the industry had adequate personnel, as required by ICAO and FAA, “which this on-going audit will reveal.” He said if NAAPE really meant well for Nigeria, why should it issue a statement when the FAA officials were coming to audit the industry?
Similarly, Director-General of NCAA, Captain Muhtar Usman, said Nigeria had not only met all the conditions for the renewal of the audit, but the country has continued to improve on its safety record.
The members of the FAA team that arrived Nigeria to audit the aviation industry included Louis A. Alvarez, Team leader; L.P. Vanstory, Operations Specialist; Benjamin Garrido, Airworthiness Specialist; and Jeffrey Klang, Attorney.
NCAA said the FAA officials would assess the country’s aviation law, regulations, and oversight capability in accordance with the eight critical elements as defined in ICAO document 9734.
In addition, during the assessment, the team would need to visit the facilities of an Airline Operators Certificate (AOC) holder, which was likely to be Medview Airline, which has been operating international routes after Arik Air withdrew in March this year after it was taken over by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria. They would also look at the operations and maintenance organisations in the country.
If certified, FAA would renew the Category One Safety Status, which it awarded to Nigeria in August 2010, when the country was able to meet its stringent safety standards.
FAA Category I Safety Status is important in the air transport sector because other international carriers and aviation institutions use it along with the ICAO certification to take decisions on the safety status of every country on airline operation.
With the certification, any airline in the world can fly to Nigeria if the country meets its commercial objective.
On Monday, when the team started the review of the safety status, the director-general of NCAA confirmed the team had commenced the re-assessment of the safety status of Nigeria’s aviation industry and the level of compliance with international practices. Usman expressed optimism that the country would once again scale the hurdle, stressing that the regulatory agency is prepared to retain the Category One Status it attained in 2010. He recalled that Nigeria attained the new status in 2010 and retained it in 2014 after a comprehensive audit of the industry. Usman said the FAA team would focus its audit on Personnel Licensing, International Operations and Airworthiness, which he assured that the agency was fully prepared for. He stressed that the FAA team would be in the country for five days after which they would make their observations known through a report that would be sent to the authority after the exercise.
According to Usman, “NCAA has done a lot in the areas that we are expected to cover and not only for this audit, in our statutory responsibilities: safety, aviation security and also regulations. We have the new civil aviation bill, which is on its way to the National Assembly. The bill is to enhance the current Act of 2006 and it is supposed to be in line with the new annexes of the International Civil Aviation Organisation Convention. We also amended our regulation, which is the 2015 Civil Aviation Regulation.
“Re-organisation has also been going on to make sure the organisation continues to discharge its responsibilities as it should be, which is to be in line with ICAO. We want to continue to attract and retain qualified personnel in the industry in sufficient numbers to make sure we carry out the safety as required by ICAO.”
The NCAA director-general said that in the area of enforcement and compliance, “We have done a lot. We make sure that our regulations, which are mainly safety, are enforced. Our sanctions are not supposed to be punitive, but corrective. We have been sanctioning where we need to sanction in order to correct and instil safety in the system and even security. We thank God in the last two years we never had any major accident. There is zero tolerance in accident at NCAA.”
Since 2006, when the Nigeria Civil Aviation Act was enacted, Nigeria has been meeting given international standards. It joined Cape Town Convention, which is a Treaty intended to standardise transactions involving movable property that has enhanced Nigerian airlines to lease aircraft from lessors. It has also joined other international aviation organisations, as the country has successfully gone through ICAO, FAA and other audits.