NCAA Won’t Certify Any Airport That Is Below Standard – Capt Muhtar

Captain Muhtar Usman is the director-general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). In this interview with ANTHONY AWUNOR, the NCAA boss explains the processes, stages and readiness of certification of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja vis-à-vis the role of CAA and ICAO.

Can you tell us the role of NCAA in Nigeria’s aviation?

Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is the regulatory body for aviation in Nigeria. It became autonomous with the passing into law of the Civil Aviation Act 2006 by the National Assembly and assent of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Act not only empowers the Authority to regulate Aviation Safety without political interference, but also to carry out oversight functions of Airports, Airspace, Meteorological Services, etc as well as economic regulations of the industry.

Nigeria has recently successfully passed the ICAO Security follow-up Audit of May 2006 and the ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit in November 2006.

Nigeria now boasts of improved aviation infrastructural facilities at the airports’ state of the art navigational aids, modern weather forecasting equipment and highly skilled manpower to ensure safety and comfort of the flying public.

What is the responsibility of NCAA in the process of aerodrome certification?

First of all, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA is a regulatory agency charged with the responsibility of making regulations in line with International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPs). So, in essence, the Civil Aviation Authority regulates all aviation activities: safety, security and even economic regulations. Aerodrome certification is one component of safety, which is mainly covered under the ICAO Annex 14. The role of a civil aviation authority in certification is to ensure that the standards and the recommended practices set by ICAO are met. Principally because of safety and primarily, the ICAO is more concerned about airports that are being used or designated as international airports. Towards that end, we have been working with the two operators or service providers, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), to ensure that all that needs to be put in place for the certification, have been put in place. Our own is to certify after the operator in this case FAAN, beginning with Lagos and the next one will be Abuja. That all the requirements have been met with the certification, and they will continue to remain certified. So, it is one thing to attain the level of certification and another to sustain the certification. The standards have to be maintained.

At the last visit of ICAO president, while he was briefing the certification team in Abuja, he cautioned against being in a hurry to certify the airports. What are you putting in place to make sure things are done properly so that when ICAO Audit is done on all these airports, will not be found wanting?

The civil aviation authority is set-up to meet all with International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPs), and we will not go below that to certify the airports. We have been working very well with the relevant airport operator to ensure that those things required are put in place for us to certify the airports at the reasonable time.  We will not certify any airport that is below standards. We will ensure that airports that have met international standards as specified will be certified.  And we will also mount surveillance to ensure that they continue to meet those standards and recommended practices with them, to continue to exercise privilege of the certificate issued to them.

Airport certification is a big deal to our country. What are some of the benefits to the country?

Yes, it is based on safety that you certify airport and it is required by ICAO to give the required confidence to international airline operators coming in that, standards have been met. That is not to say that what we have now is unsafe, because we have been operating. The airports as they are, are safe and they will be even safer, if we bring it in line with standards and recommended practices- because ICAO wants to bring in uniformity as fueled by Standard and recommended practices. We have been operating safe, we want everybody to be on the same page, that is why this certification has to be done in line with ICAO standards.

What is the percentage of the readiness of getting the airports (Lagos and Abuja) certified?

Specifically, I may not be able to give you percentage. I know we have had deadline but unfortunately, we have not met because we will not certify anything that is not up to standard. But those challenges are being addressed and I believe within a very short time, very short time, based on what we have in place now, Lagos will be certified. The certification process is in 5 stages and Lagos is about fourth stage. The fifth stage is just the signing of the certificate. So, we can say it is almost at the point of certification.  Abuja too once Lagos is finished, we will concentrate more. Even though Abuja, some of the things that we needed to put in place were taken care of during the closure of the Abuja airport. As I said, there are 5 stages: the pre-application stage, formal application stage, document and evaluation of document stage, operational demonstration stage. At this stage, all the document you put forward, the way you operate, we want to see. And what you say you have in place are there and finally we sign the certificate. As I said, signing of certificate is just the beginning. You have certificate and it comes with privilege and you can only access the privilege if you continue to maintain the standards.

How is the cooperation from FAAN and NAMA in this certification process like?

We have been working closely from the beginning, because we have to interact. We have no reason not to cooperate in the first place, because they are desirous of getting airports certified and we are also desirous of certifying the airports. Our common goal is to get the airports certified, in line with the international standard and we have been cooperating.  They have to show interest first and intent, and formally they will come and put in for the application, the documentation will follow- manuals and so on. At almost every stage, we interact and they have to demonstrate that what they have in place are workable.  Where we have areas where we put limitations, we will put limitations because there is hardly any airport in the world that is operating without some forms of limitations. Where there are genuine issues and things are put in place to ensure those safety concerns are addressed. And they are properly documented.

It is a requirement that we certify those international airports. Currently we have five international airports, where we operate regular international flights.  We started with Lagos and we hope Lagos will be finished in a very short time. Abuja is also way on course. Whatever lessons we learn in the certification of Lagos will be applied in the certification of Abuja. And whatever we learn in the process of certifying Lagos and Abuja, will be applied towards certifying Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu airports. And subsequently, we intend to go beyond the international airports.

 

What is the role of ICAO in the certification of airports?

Let me begin by saying the role of the operator is to apply and also to provide all the documentation and infrastructure, personnel necessary to meet the requirement of certification.  And the role of civil aviation authority is to check and ensure that all provisions made by airport operator and the personnel will meet and they are able to continue to meet the international standards set by ICAO. And then, the International Civil Aviation Organisation too, will validate whatever certification we do. So, they (ICAO) will come for on-site validation. The civil aviation authority will certify, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO will come for validation. We will inform them that we have certified the airport. We have been cooperating, been receiving assistance and support from ICAO, especially the West and Central African Region based in Dakar.

In aviation, safety is paramount. How does NCAA come in?

Civil aviation is one of the most regulated industries in the world. Every single technical personnel, equipment and airport must be certified and monitored by competent regulatory agencies known as Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAs). Even the CAAs themselves are in turn assessed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and other international bodies. The operating principles, guidelines and standards applied in civil aviation are based on the Standards And Recommended Practices (SARP) of ICAO and stipulated National laws and regulations. In Nigeria, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is the apex regulatory body, overseeing the activities of all airlines and their pilots, engineers and cabin staff, airports, airstrips and heliports, navigation aids, all service providers including the airport authority and the air traffic service provider, aviation training institutions, etc. NCAA watches over the entire industry.

Can you give us an overview of the industry?

Civil aviation is a critical element in Nigeria’s transportation system and indeed its economy. Nigeria being Africa’s most populous country is an important destination for over 22 foreign carriers. Nigeria currently has Bilateral Air Services Agreements with over 78 countries.

From Nigeria, air travelers can fly directly to many of the world’s business centers such as London, Paris, Frankfurt, New York, Johannesburg, Atlanta, Amsterdam, Dubai and Jeddah to mention a few. With the attainment of America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) Category One Certification, Nigerian registered carriers can now fly directly into the United States of America (USA). In recent years, domestic and overseas passenger traffic has risen steadily at an average of 10% per annum and Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos, the Nation’s main gateway, accounting for over 60 per cent of the total passenger and aircraft movement. The consistent rise in passenger and aircraft has spun a thriving service industry, driven not just by private-sector profit motives but also by innovation and the strong desire to satisfy customers. The airport is being repositioned as a regional hub by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The effort of Government to reposition the airports in Nigeria is being complimented by the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency which has made massive investments in the upgrade of Navigational facilities including new radar systems and modern landing aids. The Agency has well-trained personnel which includes 490 Air Traffic Controllers.

The Nigerian International airports, notably in Abuja, Calabar, Kano, Lagos and Port-Harcourt, are leading cargo centers. An important segment of the air transport sector, the air-freight business is kept alive by a combination of shippers, airlines, leading currier firms (such as UPS and DHL) and handling companies (such as NAHCO and SAHCOL). All the essential components in the sector, airlines, passengers, aircraft, crew, service providers are working in harmony to deliver a safe and economically sound air transport system that meets national and international standards.

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