The safety status of Nigeria’s aviation sector is being reassessed by the United States-Federal Aviation Administration (US-FAA) as the ‘Category One’ status awarded it about four years ago comes under review. The review operation, which started yesterday, will last for one week.
‘Category One’ (CAT-1) is a safety status awarded by the United States alone to countries whose aviation processes, especially in terms of safety and security procedures, comply with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Nigeria got the CAT-1 certification in 2010 after the US visited, examined the books of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) as well as a Nigerian airline, Arik Air, and concluded it was satisfied with the nation’s safety processes.
With the certification, the highest in aviation safety standards, Nigeria became the sixth African country after Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa to attain the certification.
The status had since enabled Nigerian carriers, Arik Air, for instance, to operate Nigerian-registered aircraft direct to the US, rather than fly to a third country to access it.
It has also given a positive perception to foreign insurance companies that the risk of doing business in Nigeria’s aviation sector is low, thereby offering low insurance premium.
The aftermath of four major accidents in 2005-2006 led to Nigeria’s adoption of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Act and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) in 2006.
Under this, the NCAA became autonomous, leading to critical safety oversight on airlines and aviation agencies without interference from government.
The adoption of the CAA and the NCAA autonomy led to the achievement of FAA Category 1 flight safety status for the nation in 2010, thereby enabling Nigerian airlines to fly direct to the US unhindered till date.
Nigeria was thus able to pass all eight critical elements presented by the US to be assessed. The same eight critical elements are being assessed this week, according to Benedict Adeyileka, NCAA director-general.
The elements are Primary Aviation Legislation, Specific Operating Regulations, State Civil Aviation System and Safety Oversight Functions, Technical Personnel Qualification and Training.
Others are Technical Guidance and Tools, Licensing and Certification Obligations, Surveillance Obligations and Resolution of Safety Concerns.
But there are concerns in some quarters over the re-assessment because of a number fatal crashes that have occurred in the country’s airspace in recent years. Also, there are still gaps in security programmes, such as lack of prescribed perimeter fences at major airports, among others.
“Nigeria’s aviation industry is under scrutiny and the success of this mandatory re-assessment is dependent on the documented processes and whether the processes are being followed in line with international practices. The aim of the re-assessment is to ensure that our processes are right,” Fola Akinkuotu, former NCAA director-general, had said.
Only recently, India lost its status after the US re-assessment because of its many safety issues. Experts say since countries like India, Israel and Ghana lost their status after re-assessment, Nigeria needs to brace up in order to maintain the much-coveted rating.
“But the Indians lost it due to government interference and inadequate proficiency of their inspectors, despite not having a major crash during the period. The FAA has a template that must be followed. NCAA should go through it and probably discuss with the Indians and Israelis quickly,” Olu Ohunayo, a travel analyst, advised.
He added that there was need for the presidency, as a matter of urgency, to name and confirm a substantive minister of aviation for a better sectoral outlook.
Meanwhile, the NCAA DG said on Sunday that the exercise that the NCAA would go through in the next few days would help to shape the future of aviation in Nigeria, strengthen its safety oversight capability and provide the re-assurance that the flying public needs.
“It is pertinent to point out that we are ready for the exercise, as we have never relented in ensuring the high level of compliance to safety standards. The NCAA in preparation for this exercise has provided responses to the checklist and forwarded it to the FAA team leader. The FAA team will also visit Arik Air Limited and its facilities during this exercise,” he said.
Adeyileka said that Arik Air Limited, which currently is the only Nigerian air carrier operating directly into and out of the Continental USA, was used for the initial IASA Category One Assessment in 2010.
“This is to assure the team that NCAA is not alone in this programme. We have the full support of the Federal Government of Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan, the supervising minister of aviation, the stakeholders, namely the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nigeria College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET), the Airlines/Operators, ground handling and allied services providers, the aviation press corps, etc,” he said.