1st April, 2014
By Friday this week, whether Nigeria retains or loses its Category 1 rating status in the aviation industry, one thing is certain: the country needs to pay more attention to the safety of its skies and security of its airports. The Category 1 rating by the American Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, is the greatest rating in the world and it has allowed Nigerian registered planes and crew to fly directly to the United States since 2010.
On Monday, officials from the FAA commenced a five-day audit of the nation aviation industry and will complete the exercise on Friday. The results will only be known in a few weeks.
FAA officials are to determine whether Nigeria can still retain its Category 1 status after two major plane crashes and series of scandals and sacks that have rocked the sector in recent times.
On 23 August 2010, the US. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, announced that Nigeria had achieved a Category 1 rating under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) programme. The announcement meant that Nigeria had complied with international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO.
ICAO is the United Nations’ technical agency for aviation which establishes international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.
The announcement also meant that Nigerian registered aircraft and crew could fly directly to the United States instead of transferring their passengers to other airlines in Europe or Asia.
The IASA Category 1 was based on the results of a July 2010 FAA review of Nigeria’s NCAA.
Back then, the country had not witnessed a major plane crash in more than four years. The last one was in 2006. But since the last audit, safety standards seem to have nosedived in the country.
A Dana plane crashed on 3 June 2012, killing about 163 people, while an Associated Airlines plane went down on 3 October 2013, killing about 16 people. Another Nigerian plane crash-landed in Ghana on 2 June 2012 and killed several people.
Series of scandals and corruption allegations in the sector have also complicated matters and left an impression that the NCAA was no longer independent and money meant for safety was being diverted to buying BMW cars.
The allegations led to the sack of Stella Oduah, the Minister of Aviation, and that of virtually all aviation chiefs recently.
The incidents seem to have eroded the little confidence that remained in the sector since the removal of Harold Demuren, the charismatic Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, during the successful audit in 2010.
In addition, incidents such as the stowaway boy saga and rams found recently on the runway of a Nigerian airport, seem to show that our runways are not properly fenced across the country and security seems to have taken a back seat.
All these incidents are well known to the FAA officials and may count against Nigeria in the audit.
The four man team from the United States will be in Nigeria for five days and will carry out an assessment of how the NCAA is complying with applicable sections ICAO standards.
Specifically, FAA officials will focus on sections critical to safety oversight as described in the ICAO document 9734 A.
If Nigeria loses its coveted rating, the implication is that Arik Air will no longer be able to fly to JFK Airport in New York. It will also mean that safety standards in the country have collapsed in the aviation industry.
Without anticipating the results, we believe that Nigeria needs to pay greater attention to safety. To do this, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, has to be truly independent and money meant for putting safety measures in place should not be diverted to provide comfort for ministers in Abuja.
We also believe that President Goodluck Jonathan must appoint as soon as possible a new minister of aviation whose job will be to rebuild confidence, independence and trust in the crisis-ridden sector.